- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Uber is starting to drive itself.

The surging app-based taxi-alternative business recently conducted the first systematic analysis of its drivers and found that flexible work hours is one of the main reasons the company attracts such a diverse range of drivers.

“In all, I’m grateful because it gave me an immediate alternative, when I didn’t have that immediate backup,” said Femi Onanuga, who has been driving for Uber for three months. He began driving for Uber as a second source of income when he started getting fewer hours at his primary job, before eventually converting to full-time driving.

“It allows you to feel the world of independence in being a business owner, because as a business owner you call your own shots, you call your hours.”

Uber commissioned the Benenson Strategy Group, a consulting firm, along with noted Princeton economist Alan Krueger to conduct an analysis of the firm’s “driver-partners” — including their age, employment history and earnings.

Uber’s study used both survey data from 601 active drivers as well as company data as resources for its findings. The results found that drivers, like Mr. Onanuga, describe the exponential growth Uber has seen can be largely attributed to the self-employed, flexible schedule model that it provides.

In a blog post published by Uber, the company’s policy research chief Jonathan Hall wrote that the analysis shows many people aren’t turning to Uber not just because they need a job, but because the flexible model allows them care more for their families. For drivers that do choose to work full time, the reasoning is often the same — being able to balance work and home life more easily is cited by 85 percent of Uber drivers as one of the main attractions of the job.

Mr. Onanuga said he was forced to leave his old job because his hours prevented him from getting home and caring for his children.

“It’s a great thing, probably the greatest thing, because that makes it different from your regular job. If I had that flexibility with my other job, I probably wouldn’t have quit,” he said.

According to the survey, Uber’s driver demographics reflect the nation’s general workforce, but differ markedly from the taxi and chauffeur business, where nearly half of all the drivers are aged 50 or over. According to the survey, 19 percent of Uber drivers are 30 or younger, while just 24.5 percent are 50 or older.

The report also found that a lot of drivers use Uber to bolster income from another job, and that many are well-educated. Nearly half of Uber’s drivers — 48 percent — have a college degree or higher. Many more have some college education or a high school diploma.

“Uber may serve as a bridge for many seeking other employment opportunities,” Mr. Krueger and Mr. Hall concluded. ” … It may attract well-qualified individuals because, with Uber’s star rating system, driver-partners’ reputations are explicitly shared with potential customers.”

The number of driver-partners working with Uber in the U.S. has increased from just a handful in 2012 to more than 160,000 at the end of last year. Uber attributes part of its rise in popularity to the simple application process and the low barriers to entry that allow anyone to join.

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