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Despite pushback from some city regulators and a major lawsuit, ride-hailing company Uber is expanding its ranks of drivers — and more of them are women, according to new survey funded by the high flying start-up.
The number of active U.S. drivers has more than doubled in the past year to over 400,000 from 160,000, according to survey of Uber drivers by Benenson Strategy Group, an outside research and marketing company. The survey results were posted on Uber's website.
The company's explosive growth in cities has come with criticism from the taxi and limousine industry, which argues Uber is held to less stringent standards for its vehicles and drivers. Additionally, a lawsuit filed in San Francisco claims the ride-hailing service treats drivers like employees without offering benefits, and avoiding costs associated with payroll taxes.
But Uber says its drivers — known as partner-drivers — use the company on their own terms, and that there's no typical driver. U.S. driver-partners have been paid more than $3.5 billion in the U.S. this year as their ranks continued to grow.
"These findings mirror what we hear every day from drivers: flexibility and the chance to be their own boss is a key reason they use Uber; they want work that fits around their life, not the other way around," according to the survey. "And most of our partners work with Uber to make money on the side, driving on their own time and toward their own unique goals."
The data are based on a survey of 833 drivers from 24 of Uber's largest markets, including New York and San Francisco. Uber cars are available in 67 countries.
The survey also found more women are becoming Uber drivers. About 29 percent of drivers who started in the past three months are women. Overall, 19 percent of all U.S. drivers are women, up from 14 percent last December. While the survey did not break out more details on female drivers, anecdotes include suburban moms turning to Uber as a way to supplement their income with flexible hours.
Uber is also an income source for many students. About 11 percent of U.S. drivers are students.
And a business model that's attractive to women and students makes good business sense for a company that's facing a lot of scrutiny.
"Uber is providing opportunities for students and women, who might not be as privileged in some parts of society, and that will matter to regulators that don't want to impede upon those groups," said Jeremiah Owyang, analyst and founder of Silicon Valley-based Crowd Companies, which tracks the sharing economy. Sometimes called the gig economy, digital platforms connect freelancers with everything from short-term rentals to small jobs.
Uber, meanwhile, continues to raise billions in funding to help it expand amid growing competition from other ride-hailing start-ups including Lyft. Uber is in the process of raising another $2.1 billion at a $62.5 billion valuation, Re/code reports.
The company has "really never let them [investors] down," Uber global operations chief Ryan Graves told CNBC last month.