More than half of Uber and Lyft drivers stopped driving during the pandemic, and that number is far from recovered, new data shows

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Rideshare driver Teresa Mercado raises her fist in support as drivers protested Prop 22 in Los Angeles on Oct. 8, 2020.

Fewer drivers are using Uber and Lyft than they were before the pandemic, and that number hasn’t recovered. The numbers are slowly improving but demand from riders is surging even quicker. Drivers want to be assured of their safety as well as income before returning. See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Uber and Lyft say that demand from riders has reached or surpassed pre-pandemic levels. But when it comes to drivers they still have a long way to go, according to new data.

Last month, the number of drivers on the road for Uber and Lyft in the US was 35% lower than where it was in January of last year, according to data from Gridwise, an app for ridehail drivers. That’s a slight improvement over the worst pandemic lows, but it gives a sense of how much work the companies still need to do to get fully up and running. Still less than two-thirds the number of pre-pandemic drivers are driving for the apps, the data shows.

Both companies are spending big to lure drivers back to the road as they see a surge in demand from riders in the US, buoyed by declining COVID-19 rates due to increased vaccinations. Uber and Lyft have launched high priced public campaigns, offering drivers incentives and short-term offers to pick up more passengers. Investors have been bullish on both companies in recent months, seeing them as strong businesses in a post pandemic economy, with growing revenue and diminishing losses. Both have started signaling to investors that they could become profitable in the near future.

But even if rider demand continues its upswing, the companies won’t be able to recover if they can’t get enough drivers. Interviews with ridehail drivers reveal a litany of worries and complaints that are keeping them from coming back onto the road. Among the key ones are safety