How much do Uber drivers really make?

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Opinions are like noses, everybody has one. Reports of how much Uber ride-share drivers earn have ranged from a high of $100,000 a year in gross fares to a net loss after expenses. Uber recently provided information and calculations to BuzzFeed News that showed on average, drivers in Denver, Detroit, and Houston earned less than $13.25 an hour after expenses. Further calculations involving both Buzzfeed News and Uber found even lower driver earning estimates after expenses for each of the three cities, ranging from a low of $8.77 an hour in Detroit to $10.75 in Houston and $13.17 in Colorado, according to BuzzFeed.

Because Uber drivers are independent contractors who must track and cover their own expenses, Uber itself doesn’t have precise figures on driver earnings.

Many Uber drivers would love nothing more than to be considered employees instead of contractors and are involved in lawsuits trying to have their status changed. If the drivers were employees Uber would be required to reimburse their expenses, which would be a sizable expense for the company.

The high-range $100,000 gross income figure for typical drivers was reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2013. The source for the figure was Uber itself, but the company now makes very different claims. In a presentation in late 2015 Uber Chief Advisor David Plouffe said Uber and other ride-share companies are “helping people who are struggling to pay the bills, earn a little extra spending money, or transitioning between jobs.”

“This is important, Plouffe continued. “Most drivers are not making a decision to do this for a lifetime or even for a long time.” Plouffe said that in the U.S. Uber has more than 400,000 drivers who make at least four trips a month and many more drivers who only do one or two trips a month to “to earn a little extra cash.”

But what about the drivers who drive for Uber full-time? If they purchased or leased a car to be full-time Uber drivers, they may feel stuck, especially if they are taking home less after expenses than expected.

The BuzzFeed News hourly net income estimates are based on calculation methodology that Uber reportedly called “solid” and on assumptions about driver expenses. Experienced, savvy drivers, of course, may discover ways to maximize their net income by carefully choosing times of service and locations and by managing their expenses.

For most people, however, being a full-time Uber driver doesn’t sound like a great fall-back job plan, much less a solid career path. If the BuzzFeed numbers are in the ballpark, for most people being an Uber driver seems best viewed, as Plouffe said, as a way “to earn a little cash.”

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