When Katie Wells hired a babysitter one night in 2014, she was astounded when the sitter ordered an Uber to go home. It was raining, but the sitter’s house was only five blocks away. Wells, a visiting scholar at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., wanted to know more. She wondered: Who were these people who were willing to drive such a short distance, and for so little money?
Wells teamed up with fellow GWU researcher Declan Cullen and Kafui Attoh, a professor of urban studies at the City University of New York, to find out more about Uber drivers. The researchers were particularly interested in discovering the extent to which economic inequality was a condition for the rise of Uber, and in turn whether gig jobs would affect a household’s economic stability. A grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation allowed the team to explore these questions via surveys and 40 in-depth interviews with drivers in the Washington, D.C., area. This is, according to the researchers, one of the first studies about the rideshare industry to draw from interviews with drivers themselves. (We’ve excerpted some of the drivers’ responses below.)