A nationwide shortage of employees in one industry is hitting particularly close to home in Palm Springs, leaving police, business owners and city officials scratching their heads as they look for a solution.
The problem? Drivers for Uber and Lyft are choosing not to work for the ridesharing companies after more than a year of dramatic declines in travel cut into their pay. Others are simply refusing to hop back into their cars with strangers, fearful of transmission of COVID-19 from unvaccinated passengers. Many have also switched to delivering only food and groceries.
“Right now it’s a mini debacle for Uber and Lyft in terms of driver shortages and surge pricing throughout the US,” one financial analyst said in a report published earlier this month, adding that the availability of drivers is roughly 40 percent below the need.
In Palm Springs, that statistic is painfully obvious. Passengers at Palm Springs International Airport frequently report wait times for a ride are a half-hour or longer. Patrons spilling out of downtown restaurants and bars late at night often can’t find a ride back to homes, hotels, and vacation rentals.
“It’s a national issue that started with COVID,” Davis Meyer, director of partnership at the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Tuesday during a regular meeting of Main Street Palm Springs. “It’s exceptionally bad in California. The companies are offering incentives and bonuses to help get more drivers. They are doing everything they can to bring drivers on.”
Until more drivers are lured back, however, the shortage will affect more than just stranded passengers. Palm Springs Police Captain Mike Kovaleff said officers are frequently redirected downtown from other parts of the city to address fights that erupt between bar patrons who congregate while waiting for rides that often don’t arrive.
“We’re having a very hard time getting people rides at end of the night,” Kovaleff explained to Main Street members. “Particularly if they have been consuming alcohol. The bars are doing a great job trying to help. The last thing we want is a bunch of people getting into their own cars and driving. But they get upset with each other and fights are spilling over into the [nearby] parking structure.”
Many in the audience Tuesday morning credited police with preventing the situation from getting worse. Still, Kovaleff pointed out that no matter how well police do their jobs, it leaves the city vulnerable when multiple units respond to a single site.
“We have 94 square miles to cover and if I have all my officers downtown it leaves the rest of the city uncovered,” he explained. “You have two bars next to each other. So we have a centralized issue, which helps somewhat but also pushes everyone together.
“Getting people out of there quicker, on public transport of some sort, is ideal.”
One solution might be the return of the Buzz Bus, a free trolley that ran downtown Thursday through Sunday evenings, stopping near many of the city’s hotels. That service is on hold, however, due to the pandemic. Until it returns, and unless rideshare drivers step up, there may be nothing anyone can do.
“The reality is, getting taxi drivers to return to work, as well as Lyft and Uber drivers, is a real challenge,” said Al Jones, who recently served as chair of the city’s Airport Commission.
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COMMUNITY MEETING: Residents of the neighborhood where a homicide took place July 8, speaking at a meeting Tuesday evening, called for police and city officials to expand community policing, mentoring, and job training programs to nearby neighborhoods in an effort to reach all youth in Palm Springs who could benefit from efforts aimed at preventing potential violence. “We know more police presence is just a Band-Aid approach,” said Dieter Crawford, an activist in the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood, during a community meeting hosted by District 1 Council Member Grace Garner at the James O. Jesse Desert Highland Unity Center. “More police presence is just going to end up with us on the opposite end of the law. … We need programs in the Hispanic community as well. This whole area is underserved.” Garner acknowledged more needs to be done, particularly for youth older than 12. She said she is working on proposals that would see funds allocated for programs aimed at older teens, like those being called for Tuesday evening. Police who spoke at the meeting said they do work with young people in all communities, especially in local schools, but that without meeting places similar to the unity center it’s often difficult to speak to groups of people in other neighborhoods. Their primary concern right now, however, is stopping any additional violent events in Desert Highlands. Sgt. Miguel Torres said there has been an increase in reports of shots fired in the community following the July 8 incident, including one as recently as Monday. During the July 8 incident, a 19-year-old Indio woman who was a passenger in a car traveling through the neighborhood died after being shot in the back when a bullet pierced the side of the vehicle she was riding in at approximately 2:40 AM. Torres said that passengers in the car occupied by the victim reported four males believed to be juveniles shot at them for “no apparent reason.” A subsequent investigation led officers to the area of Bon Air Drive and Granada Avenue, where they found evidence of a shooting. Police are asking anyone with information about the incident to call 760-323-8145. Anonymous information can also be provided to Crime Stoppers at 760-341-7867.
NEW PALERMO PLANS: The on-again, off-again completion of the Palermo Townhomes & Villas development at East San Rafael and North Indian Canyon drives appears to be on again. A representative of Watermarke Homes, builders of more than 10,000 residences in the desert since the 1970s, said Tuesday evening the company is in escrow on the undeveloped portion of Palermo and intends to finish the project with up to 90 townhomes and villas. Renderings of the plans show Watermarke plans to keep the look and feel of existing structures at the development. A lot at the corner of North Indian Canyon and San Rafael remains earmarked for retail development but was not included in the sale. Prices of the new units are expected to range from $350,000 to $550,000. Watermarke must still close escrow on the property before going to the city with any plans. If all goes as planned, however, a representative of the company said construction could start within 90 days. If and when that happens, the project will join multiple others planned or under construction in the area, including the Miralon single family home development, a planned Tower Market, and the Monarch Apartments.
MIZELL EVENTS: The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, offers multiple programs, including Dick Brodie’s Jam Session, iPad Basics, card games, dominoes, chair yoga, and more, starting at 8 AM. For a complete list of today’s offerings, turn here.
BOOK CLUB: The Palm Springs Public Library’s Afternoon Book Club meets via Zoom, starting at 2 PM. This month the club is discussing Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert. To receive meeting information for the book club, please email Scott Biegen in advance at email@example.com
NOISE COMMITTEE: The Palm Springs Airport Commission Noise Committee meets at 4 PM. Information about that meeting can be found here.
AIRPORT COMMISSION: The Palm Springs Airport Commission meets at 5:30 PM. More information about that meeting can be found here.
PLANNING COMMISSION: The Palm Springs Planning Commission has a special meeting, starting at 5:30 PM. On the agenda is the appointment of members of the Architectural Review Committee and discussion of the housing element of the draft land use plan and proposed buildout for the city. More information about the meeting can be found here.
ARTS COMMISSION: The Palm Springs Public Arts Commission holds its regular meeting at 5:30 PM via Zoom. More information about the meeting, as well as an agenda, can be found here.
Want to know what’s happening in your city and at agencies that make decisions affecting your neighborhood? The following links should help: