Uber and Lyft ditch mandatory masks after judge shoots down CDC mandate

Neither drivers nor riders will be required to wear masks, and the car's front seat can now be occupied.

Young businesswoman putting on a seat belt before riding in the back seat of a taxi during a busines...
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The CDC’s mandate requiring all travelers to wear masks was overturned by a federal judge yesterday, and transit companies have wasted no time at all in telling their customers to free their faces. Both Uber and Lyft have entirely lifted their mask requirements as of today — neither drivers nor riders will be required to wear them.

Uber’s updated Safety page is clear that, while the company no longer requires masks, there’s still good reason to wear one. “However, the CDC still recommends wearing a mask if you have certain personal risk factors and/or high transmission levels in your area,” the page reads.

Lyft posted to its blog with similar updates. “We know that everyone has different comfort levels, and anyone who wants to continue wearing a mask is encouraged to do so,” the company writes.

Both companies have also dropped their requirements that the front passenger seat is left open, which opens up each shared vehicle to an additional rider. Windows are not required to be open during each trip, either.

Cancel if you want — The end of the CDC’s nationwide mandate puts transit companies in a tough spot. While many Americans do seem plenty comfortable sharing close spaces without masks on, a significant number of people do not.

Both Uber and Lyft have taken the same tactic to address this balancing issue. Masks are not mandatory, but you can “always” cancel your trip if you don’t feel safe. Lyft does specify that “health safety reasons” will no longer appear as a cancellation option, though. It’s unclear whether or not that means rides canceled for this reason will be refunded.

The cancellation boon can only do so much, though. Riders won’t know whether or not their driver plans to wear a mask until the car arrives, a situation that will surely lead to many awkward conversations — and perhaps heated arguments. It will be difficult for drivers to choose whether or not they wear masks for similar reasons.

Shared rides coming back? — One of the pandemic’s earliest casualties was shared Uber and Lyft rides, which had become very popular for their reduced fares. While both Uber and Lyft began piloting re-structured sharing programs in 2021, neither company has successfully expanded to more than one or two cities.

The end of the CDC’s mask mandate could be exactly the motivation Uber and Lyft need to bring their programs back in full force. Not that we’re exactly looking forward to sitting next to complete strangers with no masks.