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Uber and Lyft drop mask requirement for drivers, riders

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Ride-share companies Uber and Lyft are both dropping face mask rules for drivers and riders after a judge struck down a federal mask mandate on public transportation, including planes and trains, and major airlines in turn eliminated their rules

Uber announced on its website on Tuesday that as of April 19, riders and drivers are no longer required to wear masks in vehicles. Uber added that riders who feel uncomfortable in the presence of unmasked drivers may cancel their trips. An Uber spokesperson said that it riders cancel trips because they do not feel safe, in general, they are eligible for a full refund of any cancellation fee they incur. But, they must first contact the company’s cancellation support team and explain why they declined to take the trip. 

Additionally, passengers are now permitted to sit in the vehicle’s front passenger seat if their party requires extra room. 

A spokesperson for Uber competitor Lyft also confirmed that masks are now optional while riding or driving with the company. 

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“We know that everyone has different comfort levels, and anyone who wants to continue wearing a mask is encouraged to do so. As always, drivers or riders can decline to accept or cancel any ride they don’t wish to take,” the spokesperson said. 

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Despite Uber and Lyft dropping all precautions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends that people who are immune-compromised, are at high risk for severe illness, or live in an area with high COVID-19 transmission rates continue to wear face masks. 

Lyft said it changed its policy in reaction to the CDC scrapping the federal mask mandate on public transportation. 

“Now that the CDC order mandating masks on transportation is no longer in effect, starting today, we’re updating our policies for riding and driving with Lyft,” the company said in a blog post

It’s dropping other COVID-19 era precautions too. Riders may also occupy the front seat, and drivers are no longer required to keep their windows open.

Riders who cancel rides because they feel unsafe around a driver who is not wearing a mask may contact the company’s support team to request that their cancelation fees be refunded, a spokesperson for Lyft told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Not everyone cheered the move. Members of Gig Workers Rising, an organization of gig workers advocating for good pay and safe working conditions in the industry, said the new policy could hurt their health — and their driver ratings. 

“Uber and Lyft are playing politics with our lives. I don’t like the idea of people getting in my car without a mask on. It’s been raining here in the Bay Area, so the windows are up and people are coughing,” San Francisco Bay Area rideshare driver and Gig Workers Rising organizer Rondu Gfantt said in a statement. “We’re in a confined space and if a rider refuses to wear a mask and we ask them to leave the car, we’re at risk of getting a bad review and possibly deactivated.”

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Rideshare driver and Gig Workers Rising member Jason Munderloh said Lyft and Uber should have consulted their drivers before dropping mask rules, and that drivers should still be permitted to ask that riders cover their faces during trips. 

“For them to make this decision without consulting us is sickening,” Munderloh said. “It shows yet again they never cared about worker safety, and refuse to take responsibility for the drivers who bring in billions of dollars in revenue. I don’t want people getting into my car without masks on. Workers like me will bear the brunt of any and all future COVID waves, we’re on the frontlines without a safety net. This top down decision is an example of us taking risks as a core part of their business model.”

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