Poll: Pandemic shifts how consumers use gig companies

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FILE - In this April 15, 2020 file photo, an employee wears a mask and gloves to walk to-go orders to waiting cars at Founding Farmers restaurant in Potomac, Md. The pandemic shuffled the deck for the so-called gig economy as fear of contracting the coronavirus led many who once traveled in shared vehicles to stay home, and grocery delivery services struggled to keep up with demand from people who didnt want to risk stepping into a store. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

NEW YORK – When ride-hailing heavyweights Uber and Lyft and delivery giants Grubhub and Instacart began making shared rides and meals available with a few taps on a smartphone, they transformed the way people work, travel and get food delivered to their homes.

But the pandemic shuffled the deck for the so-called gig economy as fear of contracting the coronavirus led many who once traveled in shared vehicles to stay home, and grocery delivery services struggled to keep up with demand from people who didn't want to risk stepping into a store.

A new survey from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows how consumer attitudes about using ride-hailing and delivery services have changed. It also highlights a wealth divide, where Americans with higher incomes are able to utilize the services to help reduce their risk of infection.

“People are worried. We know that," said Dmitri Koustas, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School. "They’re worried about themselves and their families, and they’re concerned about the virus, and they’re also worried about workers.”

Among the people who used ride-hailing before the crisis, 63% said they have not taken a ride since March. At the same time, people with higher household incomes had more groceries delivered to their homes.

Those with household incomes about $100,00 a year were roughly twice as likely to have increased their use of grocery delivery services than those in households earning less, the survey found. Overall, the percentage of people using delivery services remained about the same since the pandemic began, with those increasing their use balanced out by those cutting back, in some cases because of cost.

In Auburn, New York, few grocery stores offer delivery, and those that do are more expensive, said Patricia McAvaney, 49, who is disabled and living on a fixed income of $920 a month. She's not comfortable going to the grocery store, but feels she has no choice.

“I'm on a budget, so it's really not feasible to get everything delivered from that store,” McAvaney said.