See more of the story

Hertz is ending a popular car-rental program that had given scores of Uber and Lyft drivers across the Twin Cities a lifeline to continue driving for a living when their own vehicles broke down.

"Since we are ending ride share operations in the Twin Cities, Hertz is terminating their program and has reached out to drivers to ask them to start returning vehicles," said Uber spokesman Josh Gold in an email Monday.

Uber said it is pulling out of the Twin Cities and Lyft said it is pulling out of Minneapolis on May 1 when a new Minneapolis ordinance goes into effect requiring a minimum wage for drivers. The rideshare companies say the wage is too high for them to operate.

Twin Cities drivers who rented their rideshare vehicles are now receiving emails from Hertz saying they need to return the cars to Hertz's car rental lots in St. Paul and Brooklyn Center by a certain date.

"Hertz has elected to close down the Lyft Express Drive operation in the Twin Cities as a result of the ordinance," Lyft said in a statement.

Lyft said drivers' return date will depend upon the individual but would be no later than April 24.

Several rideshare drivers reached Monday said that they were not aware the Hertz rental program was ending.

Uber driver Mauricio Castaneda didn't find out until Monday morning when he took his rented 2021 Chevy Monte Carlo into Hertz in St. Paul for an unrelated vehicle inspection.

"It's frustrating. It is going to be a problem," said Castaneda. "I am going to have to find another job."

Castaneda and other drivers complained the rental car terminations are premature since Uber and Lyft are not scheduled to leave the Twin Cities marketplace until May 1.

The drivers, who rent on a week-to-week basis, are wondering what they are going to do if they can't rent the cars for the remaining few weeks of Uber and Lyft service. They said they received mixed signals from Hertz, as call center operators said they did not have answers for drivers about if or when they should return cars.

Vehicles are rented for around $335 a week. The rental service, which Hertz started with Uber and Lyft in 2017, has been popular with drivers who say they found it helpful after maintenance costs on their personal cars jumped significantly.

In February and early March, it was common for 15 to 20 drivers to be seated awaiting their turn to rent vehicles at the Hertz shop in St. Paul.

"I think the rental program is great in certain circumstances like mine, when your car is in the shop and you need to continue working," said Dan Fragola, who drives 12 hours and 400 miles a day for Lyft. He put 67,000 miles on his car in 10 months and shelled out $3,000 in tires and other maintenance costs.

That's what landed him at the Hertz-Uber office in St. Paul a few weeks ago. It was the first time the Cottage Grove resident rented a car for business.

Going forward, Fragola said he is not sure how he will be affected when Lyft pulls out of Minneapolis. He hopes to still serve suburban passengers who don't need to go into downtown Minneapolis.

Castaneda said he is in a race to figure things out. He and members of a group called Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association (MULDA) are trying to start a driver-owned rideshare co-op that could fill the void left by Uber and Lyft in the Twin Cities market.

The chances that the co-op could be up and running anytime soon is a long shot. "They need to recruit at least 1,000 drivers to start," Castaneda said. As of Friday, more than 200 drivers had signed on, including him.

By Monday morning, more than 1,000 drivers had signed up for the co-op, said MULDA President Eid Ali. He estimated that about $400,000 in licensing, server and other costs would need to be raised to get the cooperative off the ground.

The co-op is one of several options being investigated. Other app-based, rideshare companies under consideration include existing firms already operating in New York, Texas, California and Washington, D.C.

Talks between MULDA and officials and recruiters in those firms take place frequently, Ali said.

Drivers are determined to do something, especially those who must suddenly turn in rental cars and give up driving for Uber and Lyft. Some are applying to drive vans for medical service or bus companies, Ali and others said.

"There is nothing else we can do," Castaneda said. "If they take away the operations here, we have to find another way to work."