Tech | June 2, 2019 2:29 pm

Inside the Economics of Driving for Uber

No benefits, many expenses, and a host of anxieties

Traveling via Uber
Traveling in New York City via Uber
Carl Mikoy/Creative Commons

In the last few years, car hailing apps like Uber and Lyft have become a part of everyday life for many. On the up side, they make it less necessary to own a car in many cities, and can help urban residents deal with public transit outages more easily. But the economic reality of Uber for many of its drivers is a more complex issue. A new CNBC report explored the lives of a trio of Uber drivers, focusing on the often-unsettling economics of their profession.

The article’s findings may give you pause the next time you go to hail a ride.

Driver Sonan Lama is quoted as saying, “The algorithm is our boss.” The New York City-based father has also taken a hit in income due to a 2016 change in Uber’s payments to their drivers — right now, he averages $800 in income per week and is seeking work elsewhere.

For another driver interviewed for the article, Uber wasn’t necessarily a viable way to earn a living, but it worked as a supplement to a full-time job. Ismail, a Minnesota-based father of three, drives thirty hours a week in addition to working a full-time job, resulting in about $500 of income in an average week. Even there, risk isn’t far off: he described damage to his car as a result of a tire blowout while driving a client to the airport, which cost $3,000 to fix.

This article comes at a time where apps like Uber are at a point of fluctuation. Uber’s own recent IPO has revealed that the company is losing significant amounts of money, and the state of California is looking into ways to regulate “gig economy” companies. The argument that these apps also adversely affect public transportation is also gaining momentum.

A recent federal court decision concerning the status of Uber drivers may have significant repercussions in these debates going forward. Until then, CNBC’s report stands as another document of how technology can influence modern economic anxiety.

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