Cellphone ride-hailing app Uber made headlines today with a study that suggests the median business income of its full-time uberX drivers—the company’s low-cost mobile service—was $90,766 a year in New York and $74,191 in San Francisco — and that’s after deducting Uber’s 20 percent commission fee.
But before you quit your job and don the chauffeur’s cap, note that spoiler word, “business” income.
Unfortunately, the figure excludes many of the costs of running a business, including gas, insurance, parking, maintenance and repairs and the original sale or lease price of the car which can take some hefty bites out of the driver’s take home pay. It also measures a median income among a particularly dedicated set of drivers, logging a minimum of 40 hours a week and sometimes much longer hauls.
Just how much those costs eat away at a driver’s take home wages is not easily gauged, according to Uber spokesman, Lane Kasselman. They can vary depending on the age of vehicle, the density of app users in the city, how many hours the driver puts in and what sort of customer ratings the driver receives. And for now that data, Kasselman says, is proprietary.
The data suggests many drivers think uberX is an attractive deal. The San Francisco Cab Drivers Association estimates that one-third of its membership, some 2,800 drivers, have abandoned registered cabs in favor of ride-fetching apps, where they can dodge fees owed to taxi companies and spend less time searching for riders in the street. “What we see are a lot of taxi drivers move over to the Uber platform and they are incredibly happy with their earnings results,” Kasselman said.
That assessment comes in stark contrast to a demonstration that a group of uberX drivers arranged earlier this month outside of the company’s San Francisco headquarters. They objected to commissions that they said amounted to “gouging” and one driver complained to TIME that he could barely scrape minimum wage earnings.
Uber contests that the protesters represent only a small faction among thousands of drivers who are, in effect, running independent businesses. Some are running them better than others. “We want to work with them to try to figure out how to improve their earning potential,” Kasselman said.
So the truth still lies somewhere in the vast expanse between minimum wage and $90,000, and no doubt is as varied as the businesses being run by the drivers’ themselves. If one thing is for certain, this disruptive app offers taxi drivers an alternative to the stable union contract, putting both the upsides and the downsides of the business in their hands. Whether that amounts to higher pay for most drivers remains a tricky calculation, certainly south of $90,7666 and still proprietary information.