Sara Sharpe, a former school psychologist who experiences migraines, has messaged Lyft and Uber drivers before they pick her up and asked them to remove air fresheners. But she says that has only resulted in her rides getting canceled. “It’s not something I want to be difficult about, but I feel like I have to be to protect myself,” she says. A bad migraine can put her out of commission for the rest of the day.
My Lyft driver REALLY likes those air fresheners. I’m dying, it’s so overpowering, headache, ack… pic.twitter.com/f569V0Atnm
— Joseph Pierini (@jpierini) September 22, 2017
When I raised this issue in a Facebook group for Uber and Lyft drivers, many said they went so heavy on air fresheners because they thought it might help them get a good rating. Uber and Lyft boot drivers from the services if their rating falls below a certain threshold. And for drivers of both companies, wages, already low, are reportedly falling. This month, the Economic Policy Institute found that Uber drivers earn the equivalent of $9.21 an hour after factoring in commissions, fees, vehicle costs, health insurance, and other expenses. For many drivers, every ride matters.
Some drivers say they have heard negative feedback about air fresheners, but didn’t always take it to heart. James Hale, a driver in Tennessee, says one woman complained twice about the freshener he uses in his car. “I thought if she really didn’t like the smell, she could have canceled and tried to get another person,” he says. “There’s nothing that’s a neutral scent that eliminates the odor of several people coming in all day.”
Hale notes that his nose is sensitive, too. Drivers have to deal with their fair share of bad odors, whether from smokers or riders who just came from the gym. And they worry about those odors lingering and affecting their rating from the next passenger. “I had a person spray Axe body spray in the car,” Hale told me. “I had to stop driving for an hour until it cleared out.”
Nine air fresheners in this @Uber and very little oxygen. Send help. pic.twitter.com/BAQ14v8fOO
— Ed (@eddiespike) March 5, 2019
@lyft this is hide-a-dead-body level of smell. 18 air fresheners in a car – I’m now ill after this ride. pic.twitter.com/agCekYEW95
— Jessica Wertzler (@jmwertzler) October 12, 2018
Some drivers, aware of shifting consumer preferences, try not to overdo it. Dylan Esparza, a ride-share driver who runs a YouTube channel called The Rideshare Hub, says that when he does use air fresheners, he goes very light, because he’s aware “most passengers don’t like strong smells.” When Esparza started, though, like most drivers, he stocked up on air fresheners. “I tried out several fresheners in the beginning and found out I was allergic,” he says. “I realized a lot of passengers probably are as well.” Now he uses charcoal bags to soak up any errant smells from smokers and the like.