Uber Driver? 10 Cities Where the Rideshare Economy is on Fire

uber driver

A man wearing an Uber T-shirt | GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images

The future of work is here, and it doesn’t look quite like what some people expected. In recent years the so-called “gig economy” has exploded, as technology has made it easier to make a living by cobbling together various temporary or freelance jobs. You might be an Uber driver by night, a freelance graphic designer during the day, and an Airbnb host on the weekends.

To some, the new era of flexibility is reason to cheer. Others worry about a future where stable full-time jobs are a thing of the past and employee benefits are a distant memory. But for all the hullabaloo over the emergence of a more flexible workforce, two things weren’t really clear: How many people were actually working in the digitally-driven gig economy, and what effect that might be having on traditional jobs. Now, two new reports offer preliminary answers to those questions.

The first, from McKinsey, found 20% to 30% of workers in the United States and Europe were engaged in some kind of independent work. But only a fraction of those people are finding gigs through digital platforms like Uber, Upwork, or Thumbtack. Most self-employed workers connect with clients the old-fashioned way — through networking, word-of-mouth, or advertising. And contrary to an image of a happy army of freelancers freed from the shackles of the traditional 9-to-5, 30% of independent workers would rather have full-time jobs. They’re self-employed by necessity, not by choice.

What about job-destroying apps like Uber? The reality there is a bit more complicated as well, researchers at the Brookings Institution discovered. The number of independent contractors and freelancers working in the ground transportation industry (i.e., taxis, limos, and ridesharing services) in the biggest U.S. cities has indeed spiked in recent years. But in most cases, the increase wasn’t accompanied by a decline in “payroll employment.” Instead, the number of traditional employees grew along with the increase in independent workers, though not as dramatically.

uber app

Uber app logo | Carl Court/Getty Images

Nationwide, the number of  payroll workers in the ground transportation industry grew 17% between 2012 and 2014. But the number of independent workers grew by 69%. Some members of the latter group are self-employed drivers working for old-school yellow cab companies. But given that the number of drivers spiked just as ridesharing apps took off in a big way, it’s reasonable to assume many are driving for Uber or Lyft.

The trends in employment numbers for drivers aren’t consistent across the country. In St. Louis, the number of independent drivers grew by a modest 11%, but other cities saw the number of independent drivers grow by 100% or more. In those places, Uber and its competitors were likely stepping in to meet an unmet demand for better ride service, Brookings speculated. (Many of the cities with the greatest increase in drivers were sprawling metros with relatively inefficient public transit networks, like San Diego, Los Angeles, and Austin.) And in a few cities – notably San Jose, the hub of Silicon Valley — the increase in independent workers was accompanied by a fall in traditional employment, a sign that ridesharing services might lead to a decline in traditional jobs.

In what cities are services like Uber having the biggest impact? These 10 major metros had the biggest percentage increase in self-employed drivers from 2012 to 2014, according to Brookings.

10. Denver, Colorado

denver

Denver, Colorado | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

  • New self-employed drivers since 2012: 2,186
  • Change in gig employment: +88%
  • Change in traditional employment: +21%

9. Sacramento, California

sacramento skyline

Sacramento, California | iStock.com

  • New self-employed drivers since 2012: 718
  • Change in gig employment: +92%
  • Change in traditional employment: -22%

8. Boston, Massachusetts

boston after snowstorm

Boston, Massachusetts | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

  • New self-employed drivers since 2012: 6,246
  • Change in gig employment: +94%
  • Change in traditional employment: +20%

7. Las Vegas, Nevada

las vegas skyline

Aerial view of the Las Vegas Strip | SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

  • New self-employed drivers since 2012: 878
  • Change in gig employment: +105%
  • Change in traditional employment: +4%

6. Nashville, Tennessee

nashville

Nashville, Tennessee | Rusty Russell/Getty Images

  • New self-employed drivers since 2012: 1,091
  • Change in gig employment: +107%
  • Change in traditional employment: +33%

5. San Diego, California

san diego skyline

San Diego skyline | iStock.com

  • New self-employed drivers since 2012: 2,862
  • Change in gig employment: +109%
  • Change in traditional employment: -1%

4. Austin, Texas

austin texas

Austin, Texas | Michael Buckner/Getty Images

  • New self-employed drivers since 2012: 1,405
  • Change in gig employment: +136%
  • Change in traditional employment: +2%

3. Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles skyline

Los Angeles | Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

  • New self-employed drivers since 2012: 13,539
  • Change in gig employment: +136%
  • Change in traditional employment: +13%

2. San Francisco, California

San Francisco at sunset

San Francisco | iStock.com

  • New self-employed drivers since 2012: 9,881
  • Change in gig employment: +142%
  • Change in traditional employment: +22%

1. San Jose, California

san jose california

San Jose, California | iStock.com

  • New self-employed drivers since 2012: 1,781
  • Change in gig employment: +145%
  • Change in traditional employment: -31%

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