Hundreds of thousands of Americans are now working as contractors for the rapidly growing ride-hailing industry, specifically for the largest companies, Uber and Lyft. But a new survey, released this week, finds that Lyft, with its fluorescent pink mustache symbol, is more popular with drivers.
More than 75 percent of Lyft drivers said they were satisfied with their experience, while less than half of Uber drivers said the same. Lyft is a significantly smaller company, but its drivers made more money. According to the survey, Uber drivers averaged $15.68 per hour, while Lyft drivers made an average of $17.50. Plus, Lyft also prompts passengers to tip.
This was one of the findings from a survey of 1,150 drivers, one of the largest polls of the sort. It was conducted through the blog, podcast and YouTube channel known as The Rideshare Guy, by the founder Harry Campbell with help from researchers at Stanford University.
While the ride-hailing companies are enormously popular and often much cheaper than a taxi, Campbell and his team have previously reported that the prices have been declining.
Those price drops may be increasing the valuations of the companies, but Campbell says they are taking their toll on drivers who must work longer hours to make a living wage.
"What that means for drivers is that they are driving further for the same income," Campbell says. "Ultimately they aren't making more than they would in a service job at McDonald's or Burger King."
The drivers are contractors rather than employees of the companies, and their wages are determined by how many rides they do in a day. But the survey also found that the most valuable element, after pay, was the flexibility of hours.
"You can take the day off without asking your boss," Campbell says. So overall, he says, "for drivers the situation isn't terrible, but it isn't improving."
The survey dovetails with a $20-million settlement that Uber just reached with federal regulators who charged that the company misled drivers by exaggerating how much they could earn and encouraging them to lease cars through a 'low-cost' program that turned out to be not as low-cost as advertised.
The driver survey also found that drivers tend to be a lot older than their passengers. Close to 30 percent are between 51 and 60 years old, and another quarter are older than 61. Campbell says some of this reflects the fact that many retired people drive to supplement their social security or pension.
But Campbell believes this might also reflect a darker trend: age discrimination. More than 53 percent of drivers are college-educated, which is 20 points above the national average.
"You have these older college-educated drivers," Campbell says, "where it's a difference between no job and a job... This is one of their only options."
On the upside, the survey illustrates how the ride hailing companies — which accept virtually anyone as long as they meet eligibility requirements — are slowly breaking the mold for women. Close to 20 percent of drivers are female, compared to about 1 percent among taxi drivers and chauffeurs.
Unfortunately, women still make less than man, by close to $2 an hour. Though Campbell suggests it might be because a lot of female drivers are "uncomfortable driving Friday and Saturday nights, when demand is highest but there are a lot of intoxicated passengers."
Campbell says ultimately some drivers manage to get the system to work better for them than others. For instance, some drivers might have more fuel-efficient cars or lower car payments, which raises their profit margins.
But for others, the numbers just don't add up. According to the survey, about half of all ride-hailing drivers quit after just one year.