Comparison of two Seattle TNC driver studies


The City of Seattle commissioned James Parrott and Michael Reich to study TNC driver pay in Seattle (the Parrott-Reich study). Our just-released study finds that driver pay averages $9.73 per hour (after expenses), that a majority of the rides in the city are performed by full-time drivers who acquired their car for this purpose, and for whom driving is their primary source of income. The Parrott-Reich study presents a comprehensive analysis of the TNC industry in Seattle, not only analyzing data on earnings, but also surveying 30,000 drivers, and analyzing their reasons for driving, their expenses and the industry business model, to better understand why driver pay is so low. Parrott and Reich previously conducted a similar study for New York City, which implemented its recommended standard in February 2019. That standard has been working as designed.

To counter the Parrott-Reich study, Uber and Lyft commissioned researchers at Cornell University’s ILR School, led by Louis Hyman (the Uber-Lyft-Hyman study) to present a diametrically different perspective. They claim that drivers net over $23 per hour, well above compensation in comparable low-wage industries and more than taxi drivers earn. The Uber-Lyft-Hyman study relies only on detailed data provided by Uber and Lyft on driver trips and earnings for one week in October 2019. The City of Seattle had requested
similar data from the two companies, but they refused to provide that for use in the Parrott-Reich study, with only Uber providing limited summary data and Lyft not providing any data except a list of the top 10 car models used by their drivers. Hyman previously had published a book that provides a favorable assessment of temp jobs.

The differences between the two studies are based primarily in their depiction of the driver population, in how to define working time, and in how to account for the full range of expenses that drivers bear. They do not arise from differences between the earnings data that Uber provided for the Parrott-Reich study and the data it provided to Hyman.