A Conversation With a Chicago Uber Employee About Tipping

Tipping on Uber has gotten a lot of media attention lately and it seems as if the momentum for a tip option is building.  There have been companies like Vugo that have come out and added a tip option to their app and although it isn’t as smooth as an in app tip function, it does raise awareness of the issue with passengers.  I have actually spoken to drivers who have seen an increase in their cash tips just from using the tablet in their car and having passengers ask about tipping.

Today though, I wanted to share a guest post with you from an RSG reader in Chicago who recently had a conversation with an Uber employee about tipping.  In my mind, the Uber employee’s responses were pretty typical of Uber and really speak to the large disconnect between Uber and its drivers.  I also included a fun (sort of) poll at the bottom that I’m curious to see the results from.

I recently had the rare opportunity to ask an Uber employee a candid question that has been burning inside me: Why won’t Uber allow tipping?

A Conversation With a Chicago Uber Employee About Tipping
A Conversation With a Chicago Uber Employee About Tipping

I have been a ride share driver in Chicago for over a year now.

I initially drove for Lyft and then added Uber to my resume. As of late, I spend most of my time under the Uber logo as I find I can be consistently busy that way.

Recently I have tried being online for Lyft guaranteed hours and I would wait 40 minutes or more before I finally got a request. But I tried it because I really like the idea of a possible tip with Lyft. On some days I would get up to $15 in tips and that is a half a tank of gas. But I find I can’t justify the down time waiting for a fare. I just can’t support myself with the pay under Lyft.

Many of my Uber riders say they have never heard of Lyft.

When I started last summer, Lyft was as busy as Uber but something has changed in Chicago. In my opinion, Lyft needs better marketing in here, but that is another subject for another day.

I have always prided myself on my high rating. I never did the over the top things like provide water, candy, mints etc. though.  Personally, I didn’t want to carry around a cooler of water and waste trunk space. Many times I have had my trunk filled to the brink with luggage or golf clubs.

I do have charge cords for all the popular phones, but nothing else.

For about 8 months, my rating was 4.9 or so. Recently though, I noticed a drop with both companies and I was confused as to why since I hadn’t really changed anything. I was friendly, knowledgeable about Chicago and knew my way around as I grew up in the city. I talked when I sensed it was ok and I kept quiet as needed.

I did some online research and found that one possible reason was rider awareness. When most people give a rating on a scale of 1 to 5, they assume 3 is average. When given a scale of 1 to 10, 5 is considered average.

So I decided to educate my riders. First, I printed business cards and then later just put up a sign which I placed on the back of my front seat.

Please take a moment to give me an honest rating.

Your feedback directly affects my ability to continue to drive. A rating of 5 stars should be given if your ride went well. A 3 star rating is not considered “average.” That is only 60%. I need to maintain a rating above 4.6 (92%) to keep my driving privileges. Please don’t rate me for things not in my control.

I will do my best to get you to your destination in a safe and efficient manner. If something is not to your liking, please do not hesitate to let me know.

A tip is appreciated but not necessary

Last Saturday, I picked up three people, two women and a man, all in their 20’s. Toward the end of the 20 minute ride, the young man mentioned that he worked for Uber. He was in charge of launching Uber in new cities.

So I took the opportunity to talk to him, an Uber employee about my concerns.

Due to my desire to continue driving for Uber, I need to remain anonymous. Therefore I chose the moniker of Chicago Ride Share Guy (CRSG).

This is basically how the conversation went (I’m paraphrasing from memory here but the gist of it is right on):

CRSG: So you work for Uber? How come Uber won’t let the riders tip?

Uber: Yes I do. I was actually going to talk to you about that. This message is actually inappropriate.

CRSG: Well, (Laughing) I don’t really care. It’s my car. I think you need to educate riders that three is not an average rating.

Uber: No, no, no we do that. Ratings and tipping are completely different. On the rating side we definitely communicate that. If you feel that your ride was appropriate, it’s not a four or a three, it’s a five.

CRSG: But I have talked to riders who had no idea that five was average. Many thought giving a 3 was normal. They thought if the ride was OK, nothing special, it should be rated as 3 stars.

Uber: It’s hard to speak to every rider. We do our best to communicate that to our riders but we don’t communicate that through the app. We never communicate that three is average but it’s very hard to reach them all.

CRSG: My rating dropped last week. I did the math. Three riders gave me 3 stars because they thought 3 was what you are supposed to give and 4 and 5 is outstanding. Thirty seven riders last week gave me 5 stars. So I disagree that you educate your riders.

You need to allow riders to rate right after the ride is complete. Not the next time they use the app. It could be weeks before they use the app again and they don’t remember the ride and just rate any number just to get the next ride.

So why won’t you allow tips while Lyft does?

Uber: We will NEVER allow tips. That’s why Lyft is 1/20th the size of Uber. We will never allow tips.

CRSG: So what is the philosophy?

Uber: We will never allow tips. Let me ask you this. When you buy a cup of coffee, do you like writing zero at the end of the receipt saying that you don’t want to tip? No. You don’t like writing zero. It feels awkward to write zero. It feels very awkward to write zero. We don’t want our riders to feel awkward at the end of the ride.

CRSG: If I take a cab, I tip the cab driver.

Uber: Yea, but we are not a cab.

Uber: If you buy coffee and there’s a line that says tip, it feels awkward to write zero. It feels very awkward to write zero and we don’t want to do that to our riders at the end of a trip. I’ll just tell you right now, we will never allow tips.

CRSG: In Uber taxi, you automatically add a set tip amount.

Uber: We are eventually getting rid of Uber taxi. No one uses it.

So why don’t you drive for Lyft?  Where do you get most of your trips [Uber]? There you go.

Lyft is going to disappear in a couple years and we will NEVER allow tips. Think back to the coffee example. That’s a perfect example. When you buy coffee, you feel like you are paying for the coffee already. Why should I have to write I am not going to tip you, you have to tip when you have already paid for the service?

CRSG: Because the tip goes directly to the person serving you depending on the level of service. I rate their level of service. They are getting paid minimum wage.

Uber: I know. But you are already paying for the service.

CRSG: I understand you have to speak the company line, but I don’t agree with it. That’s the one thing I don’t like about driving for Uber.

The ride ended. We parted ways. Needless to say, I didn’t get a tip.

But I did keep track of the “Uber company line” which was stated five times in five minutes. “Uber will never allow tips.”

Guess I got my answer to my question.  Now I am waiting for my “pink slip” email. I guess there’s always Sidecar.

-Chicago Ride Share Guy

Harry here again, drivers have you ever had a run-in with an Uber or Lyft employee?  Feel free to share your experience in the comments below and let us know what you guys talked about.  If you could ask just one question to an Uber employee, what would it be?