gas prices

Record-High Gas Prices and Rising Maintenance Costs Squeezing Professional Drivers

Some San Diego rideshare drivers are working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week just to make ends meet after paying out-of-pocket for gas and vehicle maintenance

NBC Universal, Inc.

There is no getting around it -- gas prices are going through the roof and everyone is feeling the pain in their wallet, but some of the people feeling it the most are those who rely on their cars to make a living.

Limo and rideshare drivers have been expressing frustration for almost two years due to passengers refusing to wear masks in their cars and pandemic-caused supply chain issues sometimes preventing them from getting vehicle repairs. Some told NBC 7 that rising gas prices may be the nail in the coffin for their businesses.

“We have to pay for everything for our vehicles -- gas and oil, tires -- and all the prices for everything went up," said Sam, a National Rideshare Company driver living in San Diego.

Sam said he’s clocked over 21,000 rides in the more than five years he’s been at the wheel, but he said this year may be his last.

The husband and father of four said the surging inflation of products he needs to make a living are hitting him and other drivers hard, causing some to leave the rideshare business altogether. But Sam said his options are limited because of a disability caused by injuries to his shoulder and knee in a car accident.

He told NBC 7 he paid an extra $10,000 for a hybrid Honda sedan model he uses for work, thinking the amount of money he’d save on gas would be well worth the investment, but as gas prices hit levels not seen since 2012, Sam said he's spending over $1,000 a month to fill up.

Making matters worse, he said the take-home pay from companies he drives for has dropped coming out of the pandemic.

“It used to be around $1 per mile,” he said. “Now they are around 88 cents per mile.”

He hit the road at 4 a.m. Tuesday and said he sometimes has to work more than 12-hour shifts, seven days a week just to break even.

“I have a lot of bills to pay,” he said. “We have to work double than before [the pandemic] to make the same amount of money.”

Limo company owner and driver Sal moved to San Diego for a fresh start after he was forced to close his Phoenix, Arizona, limo business after 16 years due to the pandemic, but now rideshare competition, taxes, expensive business permits, insurance costs and soaring gas prices have him running on fumes in California, too.

“It’s very difficult to operate and to meet all expenses,” Sal said. “You barely make any profit. Before the pandemic fuel prices were still high, but this is absolutely insane.”

He said he’s had to change his whole business model to stay afloat.

“I used to rely on conventions and conferences and corporate accounts, but now we deal with bars and nightclubs because I have no choice,” he said. “That's something I don’t really want to do… so it's been very difficult.”

Sal said the high costs of living and staying in business have forced him to make some big sacrifices.

“Right now, I don't go anywhere, I don't travel, I don't celebrate anything just to be focused on paying bills and rebuilding what I have lost,” he said.

Both men came to the U.S. in search of better opportunities for their families and said they're praying their hard work will pay off soon.

“I came here from Iraq 17 years ago,” Sam said. “That’s why I work a lot of hours to pay our bills and to have a better life… I hope everything is going to go back again because I believe we are a strong country and we could pass all the things and go back again strong and better than before.”

Driven by the rising gas prices, Uber announced a partnership Monday with the apps GetUpside and GasBuddy to offer driver discounts at some gas stations, and both men said customers tipping a little extra goes a long way, especially right now.

The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline in San Diego County rose Tuesday for the seventh consecutive day, increasing eight-tenths of a cent to $4.637, its highest amount since Oct. 15, 2012, and less than nine cents below San Diego County’s record high of $4.725 set on Oct. 8, 2012.

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