LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A lack of drivers in Louisville is expected to cause delays this week for Derby-goers searching for rides.

In the days leading up to the first Saturday in May, people typically have to wait longer and pay more for taxis, private cars, limos, Ubers or Lyfts around Louisville. However, there are added roadblocks this year that will add to the delay, including a shortage of available drivers.

“Please make your plans in advance,” said Karen Williams, president and CEO of Louisville Tourism. “If everyone can be patient and plan accordingly, they will have the best weekend ever.”

Williams suggested that visitors and locals alike should make sure to come up with plans and backup plans for how to get around town in the coming days, especially for anyone planning to enjoy a mint julep or two.

“The Kentucky Derby has always been a bit of a logistical challenge, just like many sporting events, because you just have thousands and thousands of people getting out at one moment,” said Javi Correoso, a spokesperson for Uber.

Uber is expecting busy weekend for the active drivers. With that in mind, Correoso said Uber is offering current Louisville drivers a $15 incentive per picking for accepting rides in peak times, and the company is putting a call out to drivers in Cincinnati, Lexington, and Bowling Green to come to Louisville for the weekend.

"The No. 1 thing is that demand is going to be very high, so riders should be patient,” he said.

Uber offered the following suggestions to help people searching for rides on Oaks or Derby Day:

  • Consider waiting 30 to 40 minutes after peak times to order the ride
  • Consider walking away from the track to set an easier pickup location

“We recommend that riders if they can wait a few minutes to request a trip or if they're willing to walk a few blocks away from the venue, that's always a better idea as well, because the drivers have trouble getting to the road closures,” Correoso said.

One thing Uber does not suggest doing is to schedule a ride.

“It's best to request a ride on the day of the event," Correoso said. "Scheduling a ride is just going to be very difficult because of the logistics of being around so many people all in one place trying to find a ride all at the same time."

WDRB News spoke to several drivers about their experiences and expectations for Derby week. They did not want to be identified, concerned that it could jeopardize their status on the ride-share apps. However, they all unanimously discussed concerns over the lack of drivers to meet the growing demand of riders.

“I would just ask riders to please be patient, because we are trying to get to them," one Louisville driver said. "But be ready to pay a lot, because those rates will spike."

The seasoned drivers said that there is a hesitancy for some former drivers to hit the streets again with Uber or Lyft because of coronavirus safety and unemployment concerns. They also said other former drivers are not able to start driving again because they’re waiting for months on delayed background checks.

“In terms of the background checks, we constantly work with our regulator," Correoso said. "The state right now is considering a few minor tweaks to the rideshare laws to make it a bit easier to recruit drivers, especially given that there's so much demand on the street right now. That’s important."

The spokesperson said that the major hindrance to returning that Uber is hearing from drivers is concerns over health and safety in the pandemic. Many drivers are still not comfortable with having riders in their cars.

“We still don't have the number of drivers on the platform that were driving once the pandemic hit," Correoso said. "We continue to believe that that's due to the fact a lot of drivers haven't been vaccinated yet or are waiting for more people to become vaccinated."

Uber has partnered with Walgreens to offer vaccine appointment times to drivers. Correoso said he believes that program has helped bring more drivers back recently. And Uber requires both riders and drivers to wear masks at all times. The app sends a prompt to riders before confirming the ride that they will comply with wearing masks.

“Safety is still of utmost importance for a drivers and riders, and that’s why we will still be continuing the mask requirement,” Correoso said.

With fewer rideshare drivers available, many of the area’s private car services are seeing an uptick in customers calling to schedule rides. Chris Hellmann owns Bluegrass Executive Transportation, and he’s getting calls from people every day trying to book a driver.

“I’m getting so many calls that I’m having to refer people to other good drivers I know in the area,” Hellmann said. “I make sure to give the best service to my clients, so I’m not going to overbook anyone.”

Hellmann said he’s thrilled to have many of his regular clients coming back to Louisville this year for the Derby after fans were not allowed at the track in 2020 because of the pandemic. He runs a smaller company of drivers in order to offer the highest quality service for riders. In a typical Derby, he would have a dozen or so drivers managing rides and clients. He has fewer drivers this year, because he said it’s difficult to find enough workers.

He suggests people hoping to book a driver for an entire day should start making arrangements, if they haven’t already.

“People deserve to have a good time here for Derby and not worry about how they’ll get where, so have a plan,” Hellmann said.

Hellmann said he’s thankful for the business this year, because he was brought to a standstill for several months during the pandemic. And he already has his eyes set on 2022’s Derby to be even better.

A spokesperson for Lyft said a representative would not be available for comment when WDRB News asked for an interview. However, the company offered the following advice for riders:

  • Wait & Save: At the start of the pandemic, Lyft paused all shared rides. To ensure riders still had a more affordable ride option, we launched Wait & Save. Riders can opt for a longer wait time but pay a lower fare than a Standard Ride, while drivers earn the same as a Standard Ride.
  • Cancel with peace of mind: Riders and drivers can cancel a ride without a fee if they have health safety concerns, like someone not wearing a face covering.
  • Mask recognition: We’re continuing to require both riders and drivers to wear masks. If we receive feedback that a rider or driver is not wearing a face covering, they'll need to take a selfie with their face covering before they can use Lyft again (and riders and drivers who violate our commitment are subject to suspension).

WDRB News also reached out to zTrip, a taxi company in Louisville, but no one responded by Tuesday evening for an interview.

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