Using Big Data to Estimate Consumer Surplus: The Case of Uber
Estimating consumer surplus is challenging because it requires identification of the entire demand curve. We rely on Uber’s “surge” pricing algorithm and the richness of its individual level data to first estimate demand elasticities at several points along the demand curve. We then use these elasticity estimates to estimate consumer surplus. Using almost 50 million individual-level observations and a regression discontinuity design, we estimate that in 2015 the UberX service generated about $2.9 billion in consumer surplus in the four U.S. cities included in our analysis. For each dollar spent by consumers, about $1.60 of consumer surplus is generated. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the overall consumer surplus generated by the UberX service in the United States in 2015 was $6.8 billion.
We are grateful to Josh Angrist, Keith Chen, Joseph Doyle, Hank Farber, Alan Krueger, Greg Lewis, Jonathan Meer, and Glen Weyl for helpful comments and discussions. We are also grateful to Mattie Toma for excellent research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Peter Cohen transitioned from paid independent contractor to full-time employee of Uber during the writing of the paper. As a current employee, he has an equity stake in the company.Jonathan Hall
Jonathan Hall was an employee and shareholder of Uber Technologies before, during, and after the writing of this paper.