Uber-Lyft study author jams into reverse gear over abysmal pay claims

Dial-a-ride driving sucks... but sucks less than previously thought

By Shaun Nichols in San Francisco


The author behind a high-profile study on how much Lyft and Uber pay their drivers has U-turned – and says the taxi apps cough up more cash than he previously claimed.

Dr Stephen Zoepf, of the Stanford University Center for Automotive Research in the US, now hopes to work more closely with the pair of tech upstarts in the wake of his damning paper, which was posted online last week and outlined the per-hour haul for ride-sharing drivers.

Zoepf's working draft report, distributed for comment by MIT and written with the help of three Stanford students, made headlines when it concluded that on average drivers make around $3.37 per hour and as many as 74 per cent of drivers for the services would average less than their state's minimum wage.

The claims, unsurprisingly, caught the attention of Uber Chief Economist Jonathan Hall, who objected to the report's findings – and said the researchers' methodologies contained a "major error" in how they interpreted survey data that had caused them to underestimate wages.

Noting Hall's critique, Zoepf now says he is willing to adjust the numbers in the working draft and raise the expected income.

"Hall's concern is the way we adjusted driver reported monthly income by the reported fraction of their monthly income," Zoepf explained. "Hall's specific criticism is valid; in retrospect the survey questions could and should have been worded more clearly."

Zoepf said that, after reviewing the numbers and taking's Hall's concerns into account, he believes the estimated median profit for drivers jumps from $3.37 per hour to either $8.55 or $10, depending on methodology.

While more than double the original figure, the numbers still aren't great. Zoepf notes that with those figures anywhere from 54 to 41 per cent of drivers still make less than their US state's minimum wage, and four to eight per cent are still managing to lose money after fuel and maintenance costs.

But the difference is drastic enough that Zoepf says he will be updating the figures and is asking Uber and Lyft to help by providing additional data.

"I am happy to share existing cost data from this working paper with Uber or Lyft," he wrote, "or to incorporate full and accurate revenue data from Uber in this analysis should they decide to share such data." ®

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