Half of DC Uber Drivers Live Below Poverty Line: Report

A new study says Uber drivers face widespread debt and danger while driving for the app

Transportation experts are recommending that the D.C. Council studies how to protect ride-hailing service drivers who cope with low pay, debt and on-the-job dangers.

In a study released by Georgetown University, researchers found that half of the drivers they interviewed had monthly incomes below the federal poverty line.

"After you add insurance, gas and just general maintenance you're really not earning the money you think you are," former Uber driver Kim Hall said.

The researchers interviewed 40 Uber drivers over two years about health, safety and financial issues. They found that every driver they interviewed had difficulty calculating their actual compensation from Uber, and a third took on financial risk or debt because of their work for Uber.

The report asserts that driving for Uber is like a "casino where drivers must pay-to-play the game of work."

Dr. Katie Wells, a post-doctoral fellow at Georgetown University, co-wrote and presented the report to the D.C. Council. 

"It’s a bit of a gamble when they get into the car," Wells said. "It’s a mystery, they’re not sure how much they’re gonna earn."

A spokesperson for Uber told News4 that Uber is making it easier for drivers to make money. In their statement, Uber listed tipping, a redesigned driver app, Instant Pay and new rewards programs as ways they’re improving the driving experience.

Difficult Conditions
According to the report, Uber drivers are not just in financial peril: Almost one in three of the drivers surveyed said they had been assaulted or had a physical safety concern while on the job.

Those dangers are on top of the long hours drivers frequently must work to make ends meet. In fact, some drivers reported working as much as 15 hours per day just to pay the bills.

Henok Wondrac, a driver for Uber, says he is locked into driving for ride-hailing services for the foreseeable future because he has to pay off the new SUV he purchased for the job. He said he wouldn’t mind seeing additional safeguards put into effect.

"Definitely that would help a lot of the drivers because that would offset some of the additional costs and the expenses," Wondrac said.

Despite these troubling statistics, many drivers apparently still see value in the gig. According to the report, half of the drivers surveyed would recommend the job to a friend.

The researchers' recommendations include a publicly funded commission to understand the impact of ride-hailing services, establishing a minimum wage and requiring ride-sharing companies to publish public data on their working conditions.

The "Uber Workplace in D.C." study is ongoing, and is funded by the D.C.-based Urban Studies Foundation. Researchers at Georgetown University, City University of New York and George Washington University contributed to the report.

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