A few years ago, we covered the top ten ways passengers were scamming drivers for free rides. Many of those scams are still relevant, so go check out that post if you haven’t already read it. One scam that’s still unfortunately popular is when passengers cancel their ride while the driver is en route to their destination.
Passengers that do this are hoping the driver doesn’t see the cancelation, so the rider gets a free or mostly free ride and the driver gets little to nothing. Today, senior RSG contributor John Ince covers how the scam happened to him, Uber’s response, and how you can protect yourself in the future. What are your thoughts?
For several weeks now I’ve been getting this new type of incentive called a Streak Bonus. It’s a fairly creative way for Uber or Lyft to lock in a driver to their platform and get them out on the road during rush hour.
The way it works is you have to get your first ride started between 7-9 a.m. or 5-7 p.m. and then you have to complete 3 rides before going offline, with 100 percent acceptance and no cancellations. The bonus is minimal – $10 or $12, which basically translates into a driver supplement of $3 to $4/ride – comparable (and in addition) to other bonuses. So I decide to give it a try.
Worried about getting low ratings from disgruntled passengers? I was too, before I realized there are some simple strategies for handling passengers while maintaining high ratings. Unfortunately, Uber and Lyft really don’t help drivers understand these written and unwritten rules – so I decided to create the Rideshare Guide for drivers! This guide is for new and veteran drivers, answering questions about getting started driving to handling tricky legal and tax matters. Check it out here.
It was Monday night and fairly quiet. About 6:30 p.m. I get ping – it’s a short ride in town, which is great for getting the streak bonus. I complete it without incident and then quickly get another ping for a pickup on downtown Mill Valley.
The pickup is smooth and uneventful. A young lady needs a ride to the visitor center at Golden Gate Bridge about 10 miles south, where I presume she will catch a bus to her final destination. Should be a quick $15 bucks I think.
The young woman is a freshman at San Francisco State, originally from southern California. After some perfunctory chatter about the northern California vs southern California thing, I reach into my conversational bag and pull out one of my stock questions, “Do you also use Lyft?”
“No,” she says, “Because I use the flat fee.”
I hadn’t heard of that so inquired further, “How does that work?”
“I pay $12 a month up front and get all my rides at a flat fee of $3.75 on UberPOOL.”
It struck me as almost a giveaway from Uber to passengers. Basically, the flat fee is an attractive option for the cost conscious, and clearly subsidized by Uber.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t sufficiently aware just how cost conscious this young lady was until I discovered the lengths she would go to to save a few bucks more on the bridge toll.
Related article: Essential gear every rideshare driver should have
Beware Passengers Who Try to Scam You
As we drove down Highway 101 south into San Francisco, she casually asked me how tolls are handled.
I explained, “My Fastrak is automatically charged $6.75. Uber reimburses me and then adds the toll to the passenger fare.”
After my explanation she turns silent, and I let the silence reign as we’re coming through the Robin Williams Tunnel toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Somehow it feels like an awkward silence though – which is suddenly interrupted by a series of notifications on my smartphone.
First a new rider is added – and then seconds later that rider cancels. Moments later I get another Rider Cancels notification.
Strange I thought, this time I didn’t even see the passenger added …
After all the warnings on this site about passenger scams, I should have been more aware. However, like many drivers – I’m on a busy freeway and can’t exactly pull over to figure out what’s going on.
Related: Top 10 Ways Passengers are Gaming the System (and How to Prevent It)
We cross bridge and exit at the toll plaza. I loop around under bridge as I’ve done a hundred times before and drop her off. As far as I’m concerned, it was a fairly routine ride, and even before the drop off I get a ping for another passenger pickup right at the visitor center. Great, I think, I’ll get the streak bonus and $30 in fares with less than an hour’s work. $40 an hour ain’t bad.
My attention is now on welcoming the next passenger and it doesn’t register to me that I didn’t get to rate the previous passenger. By now, I’m deep into conversation with two tourists with a heavy Irish brogue who have just flown in from Las Vegas where they had gone to a concert. It was typical tourist chatter.
Will Uber Help Me Out?
After I conclude giving rides, I check my earnings – $17.53. Seems low. I notice that the toll has not been added to my earnings.
Only $6.75 + is at stake, and I consider just letting it pass. But I’m curious – so I use the Uber app to navigate through the layers of the help section – finally finding the My Toll or Parking Fee Wasn’t Included In My Fare tab.
I reply that I crossed the bridge, but a toll wasn’t added. The reply comes remarkably fast – within 30 minutes. “Uber’s getting better at this … I think until I get the reply.
I’m thinking, They didn’t even look into it. I just got an automated reply – typical Uber support.
Angrily, I reply, “I did complete the ride.”
In 20 minutes I get a response, and it’s another automated reply. It’s clear Uber isn’t even bothering to listen to me.
I check my app and lo and behold – she canceled the ride! No wonder Uber sent me generic responses. From their perspective, there was no toll to be reimbursed because I didn’t take a passenger over the toll road.
I started to replay the ride in my head, and suddenly I remembered that second cancelation. At the time, I had dismissed the notice as a glitch. Then I remembered the sequence: the second cancellation occurred just after passenger had asked me about how they handle bridge tolls.
I started to piece it together. I went to the app again and send another message to Uber:
“Share Details: I believe my passenger is trying to scam Uber and me out of a fare / toll. She apparently canceled in mid ride so that she would not have to pay the full fare and the Bridge toll. I took her all the way to her original destination which was the Visitor Centre at the Golden Gate Bridge. But I did not receive a bridge toll or the full fare for the ride.”
Within 15 minutes I get a reply from Uber …
Look at that – Uber helped me out and reimbursed me for the toll! I didn’t expect to receive help from Uber, but this was a different, and positive, experience entirely. Within minutes my app showed the recalculated fare in my earnings – with toll included. Uber was really on top of this situation.
Warning to Drivers: Be Alert
Now had I really been on top of the situation, I might have realized en route what had happened. But what could I have done? Should I have stopped in the middle of freeway and insisted she get out of the car, since she had cancelled the ride?
I don’t think so. It would serve no one’s interest to put the passenger in harm’s way and more than likely she would have reported me to Uber.
Related: Reasons Why Drivers Need a Dashcam
In retrospect, had I discovered the scam right on the spot, I think I would have done exactly what I did – dropped her off and then let Uber know about it – and let Uber handle the miscreant however they wish.
Can’t buy a dash cam right now but still want to protect yourself with audio and image recording? Check out Seam, an app for your phone that can record audio and images, plus keep you safe by connecting you to your emergency contacts. Read more about Seam here.
A few minutes after Uber cleared the toll issue up for me, I realized I wouldn’t get the streak bonus – because it was only two completed rides.
I pointed this out to Uber not really expecting anything …. and I got exactly what I expected. Here’s their reply.
Oh well, you can’t win them all. It’s only $10, so I let it go.
Readers, has this happened to you? Have passengers cancelled while you were driving them? Let us know what happened, and what you did, in the comments.
-John @ RSG
Read next: Essential gear every rideshare driver should have