Uber drivers are earning 53% less than they did in 2013

The report outlines some bleak numbers for drivers who work for ride-hailing apps like Lyft and Uber, though those companies don't quite agree with the researchers' methodology.

Uber drivers are earning 53% less than they did in 2013
  • A new report suggests earnings have been steadily falling for drivers with companies like Uber and Lyft.
  • Uber suggests the results are misleading because they don't examine hourly earnings.
  • However, other reports suggest that even hourly earnings for ride-sharing drivers are often comparable to minimum wage.

Drivers for apps like Uber and Lyft are, as a whole, earning significantly less money compared to a few years ago, according to a new study from the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

The study examined 38 million payments made through 128 online platforms, which also included leasing apps like Airbnb, to 2.3 million distinct Chase checking accounts between October 2012 and March 2018.

It showed that, between 2013 to 2017, the average monthly payments to drivers who worked for a transportation app in a given month declined from $1,469 to $783, a decrease of 53 percent.

Why are driver wages apparently declining? The study offers several reasons, including drivers working fewer hours, lower trip prices, decreased rider demand and increased driver supply, and platforms paying drivers lower rates.

However, the study didn't examine hourly wages, but rather looked at "only their product, earnings."

A different perspective from Uber and Lyft

Uber says this makes the results misleading.

In a blog post, Libby Mishkin, a senior economist at Uber, notes that the number of total drivers with the company increased from 160,000 in 2014 to 900,000 in 2018. Most of those drivers only work part time. In fact, the study found that, among people paid by ride-sharing services in a given year, 58 percent of drivers earned money in just three or fewer months.

Uber says the number of its occasional drivers is growing, which lowers total monthly earnings statistics.

"The distinction between monthly and hourly average earnings in this context is an important one: if the share of our partners who drive only occasionally has increased over time, as it has, it stands to reason that the average of every driver's monthly (or, for that matter, weekly or yearly) earnings would decrease," wrote Mishkin.

"In our view, a more appropriate metric for evaluating earnings among the diverse and evolving group of drivers would be average hourly earnings, which according to academic research produced in partnership with Professor Alan Krueger of Princeton and John Horton of NYU have remained stable over time."

A spokesperson for Lyft echoed a similar sentiment.

"The fact that this study did not examine hourly earnings, the metric that drivers care most about, has resulted in misleading headlines," the spokesperson said. "Many more drivers are choosing to earn with Lyft on a part-time basis, often fewer than ten hours per week, and they tell us they truly value the flexibility Lyft provides."

How much do Uber drivers earn hourly?

A pair of studies from 2018 provide an idea of how much an Uber driver earns by the hour.

One study, published in February from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, found that the median profit of Uber drivers was $8.55 to $10 an hour. (Note: The study authors arrived at this figure after revising their findings.)

Another study, from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., showed that Uber drivers earn 24.77 in hourly passenger fares. However, after accounting for vehicle expenses, health insurance and Uber's commissions and fees, drivers earn just $9.21 in hourly wages–an amount comparable to the minimum wage of many states.

Again, Uber criticized the report, suggesting it doesn't factor in "the flexibility drivers tell us they value and cannot find in traditional jobs."

In any case, both Uber and the recent JPMorgan Chase study seem to agree that most drivers for ride-sharing companies are working to supplement a more traditional income.

"...we do not find evidence that the Online Platform Economy is replacing traditional sources of income for most families," reads the JPMorgan Chase study. "Taken together, our findings indicate that regardless of whether or not platform work could in principle represent the "future of work," most participants are not putting it to the type of use that would usher in that future."

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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