Uber is notoriously opaque when it comes to sharing travel data. Unsurprisingly, the company doesn’t share information about its drivers or to its drivers, either.
A new report from Georgetown University found that Uber drivers don’t know how much money they make. And that’s not their fault.
Researchers Dr. Katie Wells, Dr. Kafui Attoh, and Dr. Declan Cullen interviewed 40 Uber drivers in the Washington, DC area. Because drivers fear negative ratings that might disqualify them from driving for Uber, the researchers approached drivers on independent online forums and in-person hubs (like airport ride-hail lots) rather than as riders.
What they discovered was shocking: “Half of the drivers in this study reported monthly household incomes of $2,000 or less, which is below the federal poverty line,” the researchers write.
Making this worse, Uber isn’t upfront about wages. The company collects a 25 percent commission on each ride and charges an additional “booking fee,” but changing fares and expenses make calculating earnings difficult. “The fluctuating algorithms on which pay is based and the numerous expenses drivers must deduct made it difficult for all 40 drivers in our study to make sense of their overall compensation,” the researchers write.
What does this mean for transportation planners? Cities and transit agencies looking to partner with Uber (like WMATA’s new partnership) should investigate “what kind of a workplace they’re promoting” by working with the company, Dr. Wells said today in an event at the Washington, DC city council.