July 30, 2020 / 4:39 PM / 14 days ago

NYU launches coronavirus safety training for Uber, Lyft drivers as many return to work

NYU School of Global Public Health Professor Jack Caravanos and ride-hail driver Michele Dottin participate in the development of a COVID-19 driver safety training in New York City, U.S., July 28, 2020. Picture taken July 28, 2020. Courtesy of Lucia Girande/NYU School of Global Public Health/Handout via REUTERS

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Public health researchers at New York University are launching a coronavirus safety training for ride-hail workers at a time when many Uber and Lyft drivers are expected to return to the road as federal unemployment benefits expire.

The training, which teaches disinfection protocols and ways to minimize virus spread, was developed in partnership with the Independent Drivers Guild, an advocacy group that represents more than 200,000 on-demand drivers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Training sessions will begin in August and are conducted via video seminars with public health professionals, said Jack Caravanos, an NYU clinical professor of environmental public health sciences.

Funding for the program comes from the U.S. government’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Caravanos said it was sufficient to expand the program nationwide beyond the New York City region.

Ride-hail use has plummeted during the pandemic, with U.S. trip requests dropping more than 80% at one point. Ride bookings have increased since then, but are still significantly below prior-year levels, according to Uber Technologies Inc (UBER.N) and Lyft Inc (LYFT.O).

Some drivers have said they feel forced to return to work, with federal pandemic-related unemployment assistance due to expire at the end of the month.

Ensuring the safety of passengers is a key factor in boosting demand, and Uber and Lyft have instituted a mandatory mask-wearing policy for riders and drivers.

Caravanos said that besides wearing a mask and thoroughly disinfecting a vehicle after each ride, opening windows has shown to quickly disperse virus particles in tests he conducted. Partition screens between the driver and rider are also highly effective in preventing particle spread throughout a vehicle, Caravanos added.

Lyft has said it will provide some 60,000 ride-hail drivers with free partition shields. Uber has said it was up to drivers to purchase those shields.

Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Will Dunham

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