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Surprisingly Few People Use Uber and Airbnb

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A driver for both Uber and Lyft picks up passengers.Photograph by Al Seib — LA Times via Getty Images

Despite the high profile of on-demand service like Uber and Airbnb, relatively few Americans have used them.

Only 15% have used ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft, according to a survey published on Thursday by the Pew Research Center. Similarly, only 11% have used home-sharing services like Airbnb and VRBO.

Overall, 72% of American adults have used at least one shared or on-demand service, a fast growing niche of businesses that let customers get a car ride, meal, or travel accommodations at the push of a button, though the data also includes categories like crowdfunding, renting clothes, and shared offices. The Pew Research Center surveyed 4,787 U.S. adults in late 2015 as part of its first survey about this new breed of services, which have been hailed as disruptive and innovative.

Additionally, the survey confirmed that these services’ customers tend to be younger and with more disposable income. Pew found that 41% of Americans with annual household income of $100,000 or more have used at least four of the 11 services in the categories like ride-hailing, home-sharing, and crowdsourcing startup projects and products through services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. This is three times as much as households earning less than $30,000 annually, according to the survey.

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The survey did find some results that contradict some of these services’ claims, or at least for the moment. For example, executives from both Uber and Lyft often discuss their goals of reducing car ownership. However, Pew found that 64% of regular ride-hailing users say they own some kind of a personal vehicle while 63% say they drive a car every day or week.

Many of these frequent customers also use other types of transportation like mass transit and bikes, presumably because they already preferred not to drive, showing that Uber and Lyft have not wiped out car ownership yet. But it should also be noted that people who don’t use these services own vehicles at a higher rate (78%).

In the case of home-sharing sites, the findings are a reminder that travel is expensive. Unlike ride-hailing, the median age of home-sharing users is 42, and Americans ages 35 to 44 are nearly twice as likely to use them as those who are 18 to 24. Moreover, 24% of Americans whose household annual income is $75,000 or more have used home-sharing services to stay overnight, while only 4% of those earning $30,000 or less have.

The survey also turned up interesting results when it came to questions about regulating these services. Both ride-hailing companies and home-sharing services have been embroiled in public fights against governments and regulators worldwide. Just last year, Airbnb spent more than $8 million to fight a ballot measure in San Francisco, its hometown, that would have imposed stricter regulations on short-term rentals (and therefore its revenue making abilities in the city), while Uber mounted a veritable campaign against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to cap the number of cars it and Lyft could add each year.

Nevertheless, awareness about these issues varies. While almost half of U.S. adults have heard of the regulatory issues involving ride-hailing services, only 22% have heard about the debates regarding home-sharing. Ride-hailing companies seem to have done a better job at keeping their customers informed: 85% of users said they’ve heard at least something about the issues, while only 37% of home-sharing users have some knowledge that the services are under fire.

More interestingly, the survey found that while significant portions of respondents view ride-hailing and home-sharing services as different from incumbents and think they shouldn’t be regulated in the same way, many also believe that these companies and their drivers and hosts have some responsibilities. While 57% of ride-hailing users say the services they use shouldn’t be regulated like traditional taxis, 68% say that both the drivers and companies are responsible for ensuring that drivers are well trained.

As for home-sharing, 58% say the services are just software companies that act as marketplaces and 56% believe home-owners should be able to freely use them without being taxed. And yet, a majority also said that both the home-owners and the services should be responsible for things like making sure homes are accurately described in listings, resolving payment issues, and addressing guest problems during stays.

Overall, it appears that despite these companies’ global operations, they’ve only reached the tip of the U.S. market, both in awareness and actual customers.