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Uber: Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Mark Twain seems to have had all the best lines, and one of them is "lies, damned lies, and statistics". Twain attributed the phrase to Benjamin Disraeli, although there is no record of the British Prime Minister having ever said it. It came to my mind when reading the coverage of Uber's Q4 2022 earnings report

Most of the media have given Uber's company accounts flattering coverage, and investors apparently approved too as the Californian firm's stock rose 5% on the day of its publication [8 February], before falling back again by the end of the week. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is cock-a-hoop, declaring it to be Uber's "strongest quarter ever" in what was the company's "strongest year". And of course there are statistics to back this up: gross bookings up 19% year-on-year, revenue up 49% year-on-year, two billion trips in a single quarter for the first time, active drivers at an all-time high, and on and on. 

On the other hand, Spanish newspaper 'El Diario' leads its coverage with: "Uber closed 2022 with historic losses of €8,500 million." And indeed it's true, Uber has posted a remarkable net loss of $9.1 billion, a massive 18 times as much as in 2021 ($496 million). Dig a little deeper, and we find that Uber's equity investments in Grab, Didi and Aurora have tanked, with a combined loss of $7 billion. Those statistics put a somewhat different framing on Uber's overall performance than the stats Khosrowshahi has been keen to highlight.

So what is actually going on here? Clearly, Uber's core private hire business is doing well. The severe problems Uber had in attracting drivers in 2021 have disappeared with the inflation crisis, which has pushed people into driving for a living as it becomes increasingly difficult to pay the bills and put food on the table. Uber appear to have no shame about the fact that it is penury, not aspiration, that has 'solved' their driver problem.

Uber has also not suffered from the same drop in consumer spending on non-essential goods and services as many other companies are experiencing. There are probably a multitude of reasons for this. One is that after the peak of the pandemic many people are still shifting from spending on goods to spending on services. Also - as Paris Marx notes in his book 'Road to Nowhere' - Uber is largely a service used by the middle class, who are not under the same pressure to cutback as the working class. Finally, the sharp rise in the cost of car ownership and car loans is likely pushing some towards private hire instead of driving themselves.

Another factor at play here is likely to be the roll-out of 'dynamic pricing', which was introduced to the Europe, Middle East and Africa region (EMEA) for the first time over the past year, a development which was specifically referenced in the company accounts. It is difficult to ascertain from the Q4 report what exactly the impact of dynamic pricing has been on Uber's 'take rate' - it's commission per trip - because the figures are skewed by the fact that Uber is using a different way of counting its revenue in the UK from everywhere else (a very dodgy accounting practise which should raise its own questions).

However, we do know that dynamic pricing - highly variable fares and pay rates determined by a wide range of data inputs to the algorithm - is designed to achieve higher margins. This week, Uber drivers in London and Amsterdam co-ordinated protests at Uber's respective British and Dutch headquarters to demand fair pay and, in the case of London, to specifically take issue with Uber's introduction of dynamic pricing last week. The Gig Economy Project has published an analysis of what dynamic pricing is and why it is a mechanism to extract greater revenue out of every trip for Uber, at the expense of both drivers and passengers.

Will dynamic pricing be Uber's route to finally reach profitability? Uber certainly believes it will achieve that milestone in 2023, but we have of course heard that many times before. The company's loss solely from its operations fell to $1.8 billion in 2022, from $3.8 billion the year previous. Uber claims some of its additional R&D costs - which rose by approximately $750 million in 2022 - will disappear in 2023. And it's unlikely to take the same hit to its equity investments this year as it did in 2022.

If Uber does finally get there in its 14th year, after posting losses in the previous 13, it will be in the context of an unprecedented decline in workers' living standards and the roll-out of a dynamic pricing system designed to find the "revenue-maximising price", as one former Uber exec put it, while keeping workers and passengers in the dark about how that price is calculated. That truth will not be found anywhere in all of Uber's statistics.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • DELIVEROO TO CUT 350 OFFICE JOBS: Deliveroo becomes the latest food delivery platform to announce swingeing job cuts, after Glovo did the same last week. The British-based firm, part-owned by Amazon, announced that 350 jobs would be axed, 9% of the workforce. Deliveroo food delivery couriers are hired on an independent contractor basis, so the cuts will all be to back-end staff. The company, which said it "hoped" that around 50 staff would be redeployed, argued that the cuts were necessary to "go further" in putting the firm on a path to profitability. CEO Will Shu said the decision "pains" him and partly blamed himself, saying they grew the headcount too fast at the height of the pandemic. Deliveroo exited the Dutch and Australian markets last year, and said there was now too many staff for the size of the firm's operation. Read more here.
  • DELIVERY HERO GROWS BUT ITS LOSSES REMAIN OVER €600 MILLION: German food delivery multi-national Delivery Hero celebrated it's fourth quarter financials, but the company remains a long way-off breaking even. A revenue of £2.53 billion in the final quarter of 2022 was 20% higher than the year previous, while growth for the entire year was up 32%, but it still managed to make a substantial loss, of €624 million. The company, which owns brands all over the world include Glovo, FoodPanda and Yemeksepeti, made a €1 billion loss in 2021, and expects to break-even in the second half of 2023. Glovo, Spain's largest food delivery platform, made a loss of €304 million for 2022, almost half of Delivery Hero's overall losses. The value of Delivery Hero's shares fell 10% on the day of the financial release. Read more here.
  • UBER REFUSES DIALOGUE WITH BRUSSELS' PLATFORM WORKERS: Platform couriers and drivers in Brussels sought to establish a dialogue with Uber in the city, but were met by a hostile response. The delegation to Uber's offices in the Belgian capital was organised by the 'Maison des Livreurs' (House of Couriers) with the aim of establishing a human connection on important issues facing the workers, many of which are currently dealt with through automated means, such as the arbitrary blocking of accounts. They also intended to understand the platform’s plans about compensation for the family of Sultan Zadran, the UberEats courier who died on 2 February in a road accident in Brussels while he was working. Even though the visit was communicated to Uber in advance and took place during the office’s opening hours, the reaction of the platform was to lock the doors and call the police. Read more here and watch the reportage of (EN subtitles available). (Report by Piero Valmassoi.)
  • WOLT COURIERS STRIKE IN GEORGIA: Food delivery couriers in Georgia's capital city, Tbilisi, staged a strike action on Sunday [5 February]. The couriers held a demonstration through the city centre before arriving at Finnish-founded delivery platform Wolt's Georgian headquarters. On the way they joined with taxi drivers to express solidarity with their protest for better working conditions. The Wolt riders are angry about the introduction of a new remuneration system which they say will lead to lower pay. They want higher wages and a change to how Wolt, which is owned by american food delivery firm DoorDash, measures delivery distances. The workers organised their action through a private Facebook group. "Last year my wages never went up, and rent prices have doubled," one courier, Vasili Demetradze, said. "Everything has gotten more expensive." He added that he earns the equivalent of just under one dollar per order, which is barely enough to cover his monthly expenses. Wolt Georgia criticised the "aggressive" protest by the couriers. Read more here.
  • UBER, CABIFY AND BOLT DRIVERS IN SPAIN - LONG HOURS, LOW PAY: Business Insider Spain has spoken to a wide range of private hire drivers to find out their day-to-day experience, uncovering that the drivers have to work long hours for very little pay. In Spain, most licenses for private hire drivers are controlled by fleet companies that work with the platforms. Drivers need to earn €4,000 a week to continue with the fleet company, and only take 30-40% of this income in earnings, the rest going to the fleet company and the commission of the platforms. One driver said that he worked about 72 hours a week for €1,400 a month. The drivers are 'partners', not employees, but are still sometimes sent messages pressuring them to work more hours, such as: 'today you have worked very little' and there are efforts by management to establish a competitive environment between drivers. The fleets offer €250 extra for the first three months to attract drivers, but often drivers are let go after the first three months if they are not earning the fleets enough money. Read more here.

On GEP this week

Is 'dynamic pricing' a risk for gig workers?

What is dynamic pricing? And why is it “dangerous” for gig workers? After co-ordinated protests of Uber drivers in London and Amsterdam for fair pay on Tuesday [7 February], the Gig Economy Project takes a look.
From around the web
Platform Cleaners: And the beat goes on

Post-doc researchers Katarzyna Gruszka, Stefanie Gerold, Anna Pillinger and Hendrik Theine write in 'Platform Labour' about their study on the risks and benefits of 'Helpling' for cleaners.
Cooperative affordances: How instant messaging apps afford learning, resistance and solidarity among food delivery workers

This paper by Tiziano Bonini, Emiliano Treré, Zizheng Yu, Swati Singh, Daniele Cargnelutti and Francisco Javier López-Ferrández looks at the use of private chat groups of food delivery couriers. 
Striking food delivery workers in Russia take on tech giant Yandex

Mack Tubridy reports in Jacobin on a five-day strike by food delivery couriers in Russia.

Upcoming events

- Czech Wolt couriers will go on strike on 14 February from 12 noon in response to a new 'non-transparent remuneration system' that has severely lowered their pay. For full details, click here

- The European Trade Union Institute is hosting an event on the 'Future of work: working with and through digital technology' on the 14 February. Click here for full details and to register. 

- The IWGB union will hold a vigil in memory of Gabriel Bringye, who was murdered while driving for Bolt two years ago. The vigil will take place on 17 February, 6-8pm, Jarrow Road, Tottenham, London. Click here for more details.

- The Leeds Index of Platform Labour will launch its global database of platform worker resistance on 27 March at a hybrid event in London. Click here for full details.

- The Platform Labor Project and the Global Digital Cultures Initiative are holding a hybrid international conference on 'Global Perspectives on platforms, labour and social re-production', at the University of Amsterdam, 27-28 June. Details here

Know of upcoming events we should be highlighting? Let us know at

Get Involved

The Gig Economy Project is a media network for gig workers and we welcome contributions from workers, writers, academics, activists - anyone who wants to stand up for workers' rights in the gig economy.

If you would like to write for the site, discuss arranging an interview with GEP, or simply have information about developments in the gig economy in Europe you think we should be aware of, get in touch. 

Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at or send a direct message to the Twitter: @project_gig.

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