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Study: Some DC ride-sharing drivers make only $5 an hour

'The Uber workplace involves a complex and difficult-to-track set of earnings and expenses, which we call a slippery wage,' the report said.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — D.C. area ride-sharing drivers are paid using wage calculations so hard to pinpoint that many are being driven into debt without even knowing it, according to a new report by Georgetown University.

The report interviewed 40 local ride-sharing drivers over a two-year period. Researchers found that every driver “experienced difficulties with, or barriers to, calculating their actual compensation.” The survey found that one driver made less than $5 an hour after expenses.

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“The Uber workplace involves a complex and difficult-to-track set of earnings and expenses, which we call a ‘slippery wage,’” the report, released Thursday morning, said.

When researchers asked a 53-year-old Uber driver, Suzanna, about her weekly pay, she said, “It’s really hard to talk about [the pay] because it changes every time they change the rules.”

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Researcher Dr. Katie Wells of Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor said making her investigation more difficult, ride-sharing companies keep wage algorithms guarded and no wage data is available through public records requests.

“Drivers don’t understand when they're making money and when they’re not making money,” Wells said, who estimated that 20 pieces of data are needed to figure out how much drivers actually make. 

Wells says it’s now incumbent upon D.C. Council to establish a publicly-funded commission to investigate the impact of ride-sharing on its workers in hopes of establishing a prevailing wage for riders.

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Wells underscores that New York City lawmakers passed legislation mandating that ride-share drivers take home at least $17.22 per hour after expenses.

"Uber has changed a lot since this research was started," an Uber spokesperson said. "Driver-partners are the heart of our service - and Uber would not be what it is today without them. Building on what we’ve already introduced, like in-app tipping, a redesigned driver app, Instant Pay, and new rewards programs like Uber Pro, we’ll continue to improve the experience for and with drivers, every day."

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