Informing a wage policy for Uber and Lyft drivers with research on their lived experiences

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Name: Rachael Cicero

Title: Civic Designer, Innovation & Performance Team

City: Seattle

In September, Seattle became the second large U.S. city to require that drivers for Uber, Lyft, and similar services earn a minimum wage — at least $16.39 an hour in Seattle’s case. Underlying this decision were not just the usual economic studies but also extensive research into the life experiences of the drivers themselves.

Rachael Cicero headed up that study. Drawing on one-on-one interviews with 179 drivers in eight languages, as well as roundtable discussions, focus groups, an online survey, and a telephone town hall, she gained deep insights into drivers’ needs, values, motivations, and challenges. In all, she managed to get input from about a third of Seattle’s 33,000 drivers.

The research was critical to getting past commonly held assumptions — that drivers clock hours casually on the side, for example, or that the work is super flexible. In fact, Cicero found, about half are driving more than 32 hours a week, and those hours are practically dictated by times of the day when they can earn more money. “There are narratives out there, that probably come from the companies themselves, that driving is mostly a side hustle,” Cicero said. “That just wasn’t true for us. These were people who have families and are trying to earn a decent living off this job.”

Reaching so many drivers required great intention. Whereas a traditional town hall meeting might only attract a handful of people to testify, more than 8,600 drivers dialed in for the telephone town hall led by Mayor Jenny Durkan. “Showing up for an in-person meeting might cost drivers two hours of pay,” Cicero said. “But we know drivers have their phones on them at all times — and maybe they’d have 15 minutes between customers to dial in and take part in the Q&A. It was really about finding those moments for them to even just quickly engage, if they could.”

Pro tip: “Be flexible in your approach. If something isn’t working, then iterate — and then iterate again.”

Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program. bloombergcities.org

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