When you open a rideshare app, where are you usually going?
Your answer likely depends on all sorts of unique factors. If your job involves frequent travel, for example, you probably hail rides to the airport; if you don’t own a car, you may use rideshare to run errands. But underlying all these possible use cases is one powerfully predictive data point: your bank account.
New research from Lyft reveals that rideshare use varies dramatically with income level. The company surveyed more than 30,000 riders across the U.S. and Canada and discovered that those with medium and high household incomes are more likely to hail a ride for leisure activities like bars, travel, and restaurants. Meanwhile, a greater percentage of lower-income passengers depend on rideshare for vital services like getting to work and healthcare appointments.
“This is the first time we’ve asked riders about where they are going and analyzed it by income,” says Sarah Cormack-Patton, PhD, Lyft’s policy research manager. “The pattern is very clear across all categories.”
Lyft’s largest category — at 44% — is low-income riders, defined as those with annual household incomes under $50,000. Around 27% of riders are middle income (making between $50,000 and $100,000). And 29% are high-income households (making $100,000 or more).
The pattern identified by Cormack-Patton and team shows low-income individuals relying on Lyft for help with their most important transportation needs. Around 44% of them use the platform for commuting to work, compared to only 26% of high-income riders. Low-income riders are also far likelier than high-income ones to use the Lyft platform to access rides to school (21% vs. 8%), job interviews (27% vs. 9%), healthcare appointments (34% vs. 17%), and to run errands (40% vs. 17%).
Meanwhile, high-income riders are far more likely than low-income riders to use the Lyft platform to access rides to and from the airport (81% vs. 40%) and for leisure travel (63% vs. 29%). The same pattern holds true for middle-income riders, who also use the Lyft platform for access to transportation to and from the airport (64%) and leisure travel (49%) more often than low-income riders.
These results support prior findings of independent researchers, who also observed that low-income households increasingly rely on rideshare. A 2020 study of ride subsidy programs found participants preferred rideshare services to taxis and paratransit because they were on-demand and offered more comfortable and dependable service. A 2021 study of low-income individuals in Michigan also found that rideshare “can be especially beneficial for the low-income, aged, car-less, and disabled travelers.”
All of which is to say, even though app-based rideshare services are relatively new in the long history of transportation, they’re already playing a crucial role in people’s lives, especially for those with fewer resources.