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Americans seem to like ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. But it’s hard to say exactly how many use them.

Is it 24 percent? Is it 43 percent? Answers vary.

Former NBA player Baron Davis rides in a Lyft and Aptiv self-driving car during CES 2018
Former NBA player Baron Davis rides in a Lyft during CES.
Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for Lyft
Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

While some Americans are early adopters, it’s important to remember that new technology can take a while to become commonplace.

Uber, the online force that has disrupted real-world transportation, first launched in San Francisco in 2010. Since then, it has expanded across the country and the world and inspired a spate of competitors like Lyft, Via, Juno and Gett.

But how mainstream are these ride-hailing apps? We looked at some estimates from a number of data sources to try and figure that out. Results vary by methodology (explained below).

Back in December of 2015, a Pew Survey found that while two-thirds of American adults had heard of ride-hailing apps, just 15 percent of the population had used ever used one. These days, there are definitely more users, but just how many depends on whom you ask and on the methods they employ to reach their answer.

In 2018, anywhere from 24 percent to 43 percent of the population has used a ride-hailing service.

Second Measure and Earnest Research, which use debit and credit card data to track spending, found that 32 percent and 43 percent, respectively, have used ride-sharing services in the last 12 months. Card holders tend to live in urban settings and are wealthier than the population at large, so they would likely have more exposure to ride-sharing apps, which are based in cities and require card payments. However, measuring discreet periods of time (2017, for example) rather than asking whether someone has ever used a ride-hailing app could result in lower numbers.

Pew, Toluna (which estimated 35 percent in 2018) and to some extent eMarketer (24 percent) used survey data, meaning they asked a statistically relevant number of people whether they have used ride-hailing apps. While survey data might be more representative, people are notoriously bad at reporting their own behaviors.

Some notes on the data:

Earnest Research: Measured ride-share spending across a consistent panel of credit card and debit data, so user base skews more urban and affluent than the overall population. Data is for full years. 2018 data is for the past 12 months. Data as of June 2018.

eMarketer: Measured adults who have used online transportation services at least once during calendar year. Estimates based on analysis of survey and traffic data from other firms, historical consumer adoption trends, company data, and internet, mobile and demographic adoption trends. Data as of May 2018.

Pew Research: Surveyed 4,787 adults online and by mail about whether they have ever used a ride-hailing app. Data is as of December 2015.

Second Measure: Measured ride-share spending across a consistent panel of credit and debit card users who made at least one ride-hailing transaction, so user base skews more urban and affluent than the overall population. Data for calendar years except 2018, which is trailing 12 months. Data through May 2018.

Toluna: Surveyed 1,028 adults online on whether they have ever used online transportation services like Uber or Lyft. Data as of June 2018.

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