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This recent Mirror article, Couple explain exactly how they saved up £1.6million to retire at 41 claims:

"For a period, we drove for Uber and Lyft in the San Francisco bay area.

"For us, it was all about the hack. The companies were giving $40 an hour just to turn on the app."

"We would literally get no rides but we'd still get the sign-up bonus.

"I think we made $26,000 just on this Uber and Lyft hack, not driving at all."

I could not believe companies such as this would pay anyone for nothing, so I had a quick look at what it takes to sign up for Uber. After you take in to account buying a vehicle under five years old, the insurances, medical and other costs, I could not see how it would have been financially viable, let alone them paying you.

Did they pay "drivers" even if they didn't take rides?

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    I doubt they pay anyone for not taking rides, but to saturate the supply. A well-financed company can afford to do this (in the short term) when it wants to break the market by putting smaller players out of business. – Weather Vane Nov 4 at 22:34
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    I don't think your list of costs is fair. Many people already own newish cars. You haven't shown medical insurance is required. Does anyone check you have commercial drivers/rideshare insurance? – Oddthinking Nov 5 at 1:46
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    I'm not sure how this is answerable with anything other than more self-reports like that. Also, what really matters is what percentage of drivers they paid to do that, rather than isolated examples. And unless there are some kind of lawsuits (e.g. antitrust) against these companies, I don't see them voluntarily revealing that kind of data. – Fizz Nov 5 at 3:54
  • Wasn't this question asked a few days back already? Dont find it, though. – Bernhard Döbler Nov 5 at 21:48
  • Under a new California law (which may not yet have been signed and enacted, Uber and Lyft would have to pay their drivers for just being signed in on the app. Probably the article is a cautionary tale to show what'd happen.' – jwenting Nov 11 at 4:59
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The story from The Sun is probably quite bogus, although impossible to prove as such. What can be found in other less dubious sources is that Uber had (and probably still has) a MLM (multi-level marketing) scheme basically in which it is possible to make money without driving, as long as you sign up other drivers for the service.

Uber has a system where it rewards new driver bonuses to people who sign up for its service and complete a certain number of rides. If they sign up through another driver's referral code, then both parties get a bonus. [...]

Ziyaee spends a lot of time finding out what areas have the most valuable referral bonuses. Cities that need drivers more desperately will offer higher rewards for each new person who signs on. [...]

Although Ziyaee has been incredibly successful, he's not alone in his approach of making money off of Uber without driving. A quick Google search reveals a bunch of other budding entrepreneurs.

I would not be surprised if a guy engaged in this MLM-wise was also peddling the idea that Uber paid money for just turning on the app... as that would get him more referrals from the marks falling for those claims.

Uber also paid drivers to astroturf/protest against some laws/regulations, but that's also work.

There is one source that lends some credence to the original claim, but not as an hourly figure:

The cost of acquiring drivers has been one of the most expensive parts of running Uber since its inception. In Uber’s early years, new drivers got sign-up bonuses as high as $2,000 or $5,000 just for completing a few rides on the app.

Today, referral bonuses have been scaled down significantly, but Uber still spends billions per year marketing itself to new drivers, paying out on other incentives, and financing driver vehicles. In 2018, Uber spent more than $3.1B on sales and marketing, plus nearly $900M on excess driver incentives.

Part of the problem for Uber is driver churn. Only about 20% of drivers remain on Uber’s platform after one year, The Information has reported — equivalent to about 12.5% monthly churn.

[...]

If we set aside 80% of all Uber’s monthly sales & marketing spend for driver acquisition, plus partner incentives, we end up with an average driver acquisition cost of about $650.

Today, according to its S-1 filing, Uber has 3.9M drivers around the world. Each month, those drivers generate a little more than $3.4B in gross bookings. Of this, Uber makes about $900M: that works out to a revenue per driver per month of about $230.

This means Uber earns back what it spent to acquire a driver within just about three months. [...]

Despite ads claiming drivers could earn $90,000 a year or on average, make $25 an hour, the average take-home pay of an Uber driver in the United States today — after expenses — is still only about $10 an hour. At 40 hours a week with a family of two, that is near or at the poverty line.

I suppose with two or more drivers (a family) and if Lyft offered similar sign-up bonuses, it might have been possible to net $20,000 while doing almost nothing in those early days, but it does sound like a tall story.

Presumably one might have also been able to scam Uber of their high initial referral fees if one were willing to engage in identity theft (I think Uber always required a SSN to sign up as a driver; it does now), but also there was the issue of payment method, etc. So not trivial to pull off without also a multitude of bank accounts and/or accomplices/mules.

According to CNET, which doesn't give any examples though

Fraudsters have signed up as drivers to get fees on fake cancellations, and cheated passengers with bogus discount rides offered on messaging boards and chat rooms.

Another way to make money while violating the Uber terms of service is to make and sell accounts to people who would not qualify as drivers.

  • Simply having a referral bonus is not MLM in the standard sense. – Acccumulation Nov 8 at 4:02

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