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8 min read

    8 min read

    You may have read Jay Cradeur’s story about how to screen calls to make more money while driving for Uber. You may also be worried that cancelling too much could lead to deactivation. RSG contributor Gabe Ets-Hokin went undercover to find out how Lyft decides which drivers to keep, and which to cancel.

    Looking for more strategies to earn money as a driver? Check out our 31 creative strategies Uber drivers use to make more money here.

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    Any Uber or Lyft driver worth his or her salt has felt the pang of anxiety that comes with a deactivation warning. Details vary, but there’s usually some pabulum about “poor passenger experience” and “violation of terms of service,” with a stern (yet chirpy) warning that continued behavior of this sort could lead to deactivation.

    The type of behavior? Cancelling rides, of course, but knowing when and where to cancel rides is part of a good driver’s strategy. Whether cancelling will make you money can depend on a lot of things; geography, time and other factors, but just the right to do it without being fired is a tool that many drivers utilize as part of their strategy of making just a bit more money. But what happens if you cancel too much? Will you get deactivated? Does cancelling make you a bad person? Read on.

    Oh no! They notice me!

    Will I Get Deactivated for Cancelling too Much?

    I’m hoping you got hooked into this story because of my “Without Risking Deactivation” blurb, and here’s your payoff: I don’t think so. Be warned: you are your own person and you need to take ownership of your decisions though. If getting deactivated means that you won’t be able to put food on your table, this strategy may not be worth the risk.

    In their driver agreements, both Uber and Lyft indicate that drivers may be deactivated for cancellations, but there’s no firm threshold in either document. I didn’t pass the bar exam, and I barely passed contracts in law school, but I do remember that a contract term is not enforceable unless the terms are clear and definite.

    “Each city has a maximum cancellation rate, based on the average cancellation rate of drivers in that area,” says Uber. “If your cancellation rate continues to exceed the maximum limit, your account may be deactivated.” Sound clear and/or definite to you? Just try finding out from an Uber representative what that “maximum number” is. Good luck, unless you have access to CIA interrogators and a good water board.

    My experience with Uber makes me suspect that you can cancel to your heart’s content without getting deactivated. In the past, drivers were getting deactivated for high cancellation rates, but I haven’t been hearing about that so much these days. My hunch is that deactivating us for cancelling is too much like something a boss would do to his/her employee, and Uber really doesn’t want investors or regulators thinking you’re an employee.

    Yikes! I’m getting deactivated! Or am I?

    Lyft’s policy somehow manages to out-vague Uber’s, referring only to a mysterious “cancellation threshold,” with no definition. Lyft seems to care a bit more than Uber, though; the system won’t reveal your cancellation rate, but let it get too high and you’ll be placed in a time-out situation for 30 minutes or more, just to let you know they’re serious.

    But will you get deactivated? I went to the horse’s mouth to find out, asking a Lyft driver representative at a Lyft driver center. I asked the friendly and helpful 20-something hipster about my cancellation rate (and what the threshold was), and he told me about something called the “Rolling 50.”

    That sounds like a gang from a cheesy 80’s movie, but it’s in fact a tally of your last 50 rides, and how many “offenses” you’ve committed during that time. Offenses include cancellations, but they also include things like “tapped arrive too early,” “lapses” (ignoring a pickup on a shared ride) or “contact post-pickup.” I actually turned his monitor around so I could look at it, and though most of the info was gobbledygook, I could see that I had 11 offenses in my last 50 rides, though not all of them were cancellations. The rep told me he had seen drivers with over 30 offenses that were still not deactivated. So if you’re cancelling 10 or even 15 percent of your Lyft rides, don’t sweat it.

    One of the big risks with this strategy though is that regardless of what the law says or what you think is right, if Uber or Lyft deactivate you, it’s nearly impossible to get re-activated, even if you’re in the right. So proceed with caution.

    But is it Legal?

    I cancel a lot of trips, and I feel good about doing it. But I make sure that when I cancel, it’s because the trip will cause my hourly earnings to drop if I complete it. I do not ever cancel because of a passenger’s race, gender, ethnicity, age, disability or other protected characteristics, which is illegal under both state and federal law and just a generally crappy thing to do.

    Tell a passenger “I don’t want to drive there because I’m afraid of black people” and brace yourself for all kinds of trouble. Say, “I don’t want to go there because I’m afraid I’ll get robbed,” and that’s probably not good either. Tell them, “I don’t want to go there because it’s out of my service area,” and you’re probably good. Please keep in mind that I am not a lawyer, and nothing in this article is intended as legal advice. It’s just my opinion buttressed by my observations and education.

    Both Uber and Lyft say it’s illegal under state law to cancel or refuse rides just based on a passenger’s ending address, but this is not, I believe, the case. Uber referred to CPUC decision 13-09-045, but when I looked that up, there was nothing about destinations, other than instructions from the CPUC to not allow drivers to give low-star reviews to passengers based on the above protected characteristics. Whatever flunky Uber had write this notice (that a Bay Area driver got a few years ago) either didn’t understand the law, or more likely, figured nobody would bother looking up “D.13-09-45.” Except, Google.

    An UberPeople poster offered this screenshot of a notification he got from Uber warning him of cancelling trips. It’s BS. Note the elipses (…) in the quoted text.

    Oh Noes! Time-out time after I cancelled about six rides in a row. I can’t remember why I was cancelling so much. I’m guessing low blood sugar.

    So How Will Cancelling Make Me Rich?

    It won’t make you rich, but it can make you more. Whether it makes you more depends on a lot of things, like your personal earning strategy and geography, but here are a few ways I use cancellation:

    Pool and Shared:

    My strategy has me happily doing Pool rides, as Uber pays me extra for each extra passenger, so that’s fine. Lyft, however, does not. Sometimes Shared works well, as it can extend a trip and keep me busy (and making money), which is good since I don’t get any promotions from Lyft.

    But if a Shared ride is totally inside the original ride–meaning a ride within the ride that gets picked up after another rider and dropped off before the earlier riders–that will cost me money: I’ll make about the same but it’ll take me longer than a standard Lyft, so I cancel Johnny or Janey In-Between.

    It’s easy to do; just go to the trip info screen and tap the little ‘x’ in the circle next to their name. Loudly tell the remaining passenger what you’re doing; they will likely appreciate it and may even tip you. It happens.

    Standard Rides:

    I cancel standard rides if they take me in a direction I don’t want to go. This may be because of traffic, or maybe time constraints, or the lack of likely business when I drop the passenger off. Whatever type of ride, or whatever your income-maximizing strategy, being able to cancel freely is an important tool. I’ve kept my hourly income after expenses stable over the last five years, despite massive  fare reductions and market saturation. It’s not just because I feel no remorse or anxiety when I cancel, but like all my other rideshare-driver tools, it’s an important one. And like any tool, you can’t abuse, overuse or misuse it without possible damage or injury.

    Another warning I got, this time for tapping “arrive” too early.

    Ethics:

    Jay covered the ethics of ride screening, but I don’t see the ethical problem so long as I don’t violate either the law or my user agreement. Go into any bar in America and you will see a sign that says “we reserve the right to refuse service,” and if we’re truly independent contractors we have that right as well. It’s our decision, not Uber or Lyft’s.

    Passengers may feel temporary inconvenience, but weigh that against the inconvenience of shorting yourself $5,000 or $10,000 a year in income. What are the ethics of forcing somebody to do something they don’t want to do for sub-minimum wage?

    Conclusion: Can Cancelling Earn You More?

    The more we assert our rights, the more rights we’ll get. Uber and Lyft have, I think, revised their deactivation policies because they don’t want to squirt lighter fluid onto the bonfire of their employee-classification arguments. Use cancellations wisely and fairly and you’ll be rewarded. Stay safe out there.

    Readers, do you cancel often? How high is your cancellation rate, and have you been penalized for it? Heard of anyone being deactivated lately for too high of cancellation rates?

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    -Gabe @ RSG

    Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Gabe Ets-Hokin is a veteran transportation professional with over 50,000 trips between taxicabs, Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. He's been writing professionally about motorcycles since 2004 and got into writing about Rideshare in 2015. He lives in Oakland, CA with his wife, son and two bitter, unfulfilled cats.

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