Uber partners with senior citizen group in hunt for new drivers

As part of a new charm offensive, the startup giant is hoping to attract more than 100,000 drivers from an unlikely place: AARP.

Max Taves Staff Reporter
Max writes about venture capitalism and startups while seeking out the new new thing to come out of Silicon Valley. He joined CNET News from The Wall Street Journal, where he contributed stories on commercial real estate, architecture, big data and more. He's also written for LA Weekly, Slate and American Lawyer Media's The Recorder, where he covered legal battles in Silicon Valley. Max holds degrees from Georgetown University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
Max Taves
3 min read

Uber is partnering with AARP for more drivers. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

The next time you hail an Uber, could grannie be the one to show up?

That's what Uber's hoping might happen as part of a new partnership it's striking with a subsidiary of AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, which is a politically powerful and particularly large senior citizen advocacy group.

Uber's appetite for more drivers is apparently voracious. In early June, the number of people who drive for the ride-sharing giant worldwide hit 1 million. So now the company is taking the road less traveled for more and more drivers.

In an announcement light on details, Uber said Thursday it will begin working with Life Reimagined, an AARP group that promotes economic and social opportunities for its 1.2 million members, who will get special payments if they begin driving for Uber.

Life Reimagined doesn't have an age requirement, but its average member is 52 years old.

While this is the first time it has partnered with AARP to find more drivers, it's only the latest play in Uber's growing senior charm offensive.

Last year, the company targeted seniors and the disabled with UberAssist, a feature designed to allow riders "needing an extra hand to request safe and reliable rides at the tap of a button."

And, at the White House Conference on Aging this month, Uber announced that it was launching pilot programs with senior community centers in Florida, Ohio, Arizona and California, where the company is giving out "free technology tutorials"-- like how to use Uber's app -- and providing "free or discounted rides."

Uber's campaign for senior passengers and, now, drivers, isn't just about the company's desire to soften its cut-throat image in the media. It's also about the fierce competition for drivers.

Both Uber's and Lyft's ride-on-demand models depend on having enough drivers to pick riders up, and the two rivals have fought bitterly over them. In fact, Uber's secret strategy to poach Lyft drivers involving bounty-collecting contractors, burner phones and talking points was uncovered last year.

David Richter, Uber's vice president of strategic initiatives, says he's confident that the company can attract more than 100,000 drivers from its new alliance with the AARP group's over 1.2 million members.

Emilio Pardo, executive vice president at AARP and president of Life Reimagined, says many of Life Reimagined's members plan on working into their 70s, and are looking for alternative and flexible ways to make money.

And Uber says that it's got just the right jobs for them.

"What we're able to offer is a flexible and engaging way to make money," says Richter.

As part of its new alliance, Uber says that beginning Thursday Life Reimagined members who start driving for the company and complete at least 10 rides will receive $35. Uber says it will also begin organizing national and local events with the AARP group and will work with it online to "make the Life Reimagined community aware of the Uber partner-driver opportunity."

Richter says the average Uber driver is already over 40 years old, so recruiting from an organization whose average member is more than 10 years older isn't that much of a stretch.

Why partner at all? Uber says its other partnerships are already bearing fruit. One with the US military, for example, was meant to attract 50,000 new drivers within 18 months; Uber says 20,000 have joined, nearly halfway to that goal.

Still, it's not all rosy, and at least one Uber partnership with another organization hasn't gone so well. The company announced that it would begin working with a United Nations women's group. But later that month UN Women cut off the partnership before it began, citing the company's reputation for creating "precarious, informal jobs" that it said don't contribute to women's economic empowerment.

Update, July 30 at 11:04 a.m. PT: Added specific month when number of Uber's driver-partners reached 1 million globally.