Uber Ending 2015 With A Lot Of Bad Press

Harry here.  It’s been a while since Uber was in the news…just kidding.  Actually, Uber was all over the news this week and for reasons they probably shouldn’t be too proud of.  On Monday, Uber released a study that they paid for that basically said, “We are awesome.”  Fortunately, I don’t think I read one news story that didn’t question the methods, results and conclusions from said study.

And on Friday, Uber sent out to every single driver nationwide a new driver-partner agreement that had a pretty shady arbitration clause buried in page 15 of the 21 page PDF.  For more on that new agreement and how/why you should opt out, check out my post from yesterday.  I don’t use the word ‘shady’ lightly and I never swear in my articles but yesterday I did both 🙂

Uber Ending 2015 With A Lot Of Bad Press
Uber Ending 2015 With A Lot Of Bad Press

But alas, there were plenty of other stories this week and RSG contributor John Ince is on top of all of them.  There are a couple interesting stories out of Seattle and one of the funniest Youtube videos I’ve seen in a while.  Enjoy!

Uber says drivers are happier than ever, but not everyone’s convinced

Sum and Substance: A new Uber driver survey released Monday reveals that Uber drivers are the most satisfied they’ve ever been. But some drivers and analysts are skeptical of the findings. The survey found that 81% of polled drivers said they were satisfied with the overall experience of driving for Uber — up from 78% the previous year. Ninety-seven percent said they were satisfied with the flexibility of their schedule, and 91% said they were satisfied with their ability to balance their work with Uber and the rest of their lives.

Harry Campbell, an Uber driver and founder of The Rideshare Guy said it’s important to approach Uber’s numbers with a healthy dose of skepticism. “In the past, they’ve released earnings for drivers that didn’t take into account drivers’ expenses, for example,” he said. “They’re going to release data that’s most beneficial for them. They haven’t always been the most forthcoming. … I’d be interested to know who they surveyed.” 

According to Campbell, anecdotally, many drivers have grown increasingly dissatisfied with Uber’s lowering of fares, which, while good for passengers, has cut into drivers’ take-home pay. Market saturation has been another sticking point, with drivers struggling to get as many passengers as they used to because there are now so many Uber drivers on the road. Tipping has also been a controversial issue for Uber (passengers do not have the ability to tip drivers through the app), and drivers have long complained on community forums and Facebook groups about how hard it is to get support from Uber.

My Take:  Uber knows that to make their network functional, they need massive numbers of both riders and passengers.  They reel in the passengers with lower fares, which gets drivers angry.  They can’t win both ways on this, but what they can do is make the appearance of pleasing drivers.   So their reasoning is simple – pay someone to come up with a study that “proves” what they want people to believe about the driving experience.

Since Uber is big time into the recruiting game,  they need to periodically come out with studies like this that have a gloss of objectivity.  Harry is being generous here towards Uber.  Did Uber make any attempt to talk with the 1 in 2 drivers who has gone inactive within 12 months of becoming a driver to find out why?   If they want this study to be considered impartial, why does Uber refuse to reveal what questions were asked in the survey?  Come on ... 

Seattle Vote Nears On Unionizing Uber, Lyft Drivers

Sum and Substance: The Seattle City Council is expected to vote next Monday on a bill that would allow collective bargaining by all the city’s for-hire drivers. Seattle is the first city to propose unions for workers in the “gig-based” economy, specifically drivers who work for ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. Taxi and for-hire drivers would also be included. As the vote gets closer, the campaign has intensified.

Sitting in the lobby at Seattle City Hall, Teamsters Local 117 representative Dawn Gearhart said industry players are running into each other everywhere. Gearhart had already met with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. She said he seemed supportive of the union effort but worried about lawsuits. “He does have concerns about the city being challenged,” she said, “but his office has done a tremendous amount of work to make sure this is legally defensible,” she said. She said the city has registered 14,000 drivers-for-hire, who would choose a nonprofit to represent them in contract negotiations. 

Gearhart was joined by driver Don Creery. He said in 2013 he was glad to give up rigid 12-hour shifts as a taxi driver to work for Lyft and Uber. Drivers raved that the new work was flexible and well-paid. There was “a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of support,” Creery said. “I mean, people really enjoyed these jobs.” He bought a new car and dedicated himself to working for the two companies. But last year Creery said Uber cut its rates drastically, so drivers lost income. And he said the company offers little help dealing with challenges drivers face, like low customer ratings. Creery said one-star ratings can be baffling, and even damaging, since they can get drivers deactivated. Drivers also bear the cost of maintaining their vehicles. Now Creery is making less money, working longer shifts, and he’s supporting the Teamsters’ push for unions.

My Take:  This is an important development.  If Seattle establishes a template for union representation of gig workers and withstands legal challenge, other cities would likely follow quickly.  Right now gig workers face a take it or leave it proposition.  But the job choice isn’t that simple.  There parts of the job that don’t make sense financially, but aspects to the gig that are appealing.  If represented by unions, gig workers would have some negotiating leverage and TNCs would be required to bargain in good faith.  Could be a game changer in this industry.

5 Ways to Boost Your Uber Passenger Rating

Sum and Substance: While the readers concerned about 4.5 to 4.8 ratings have nothing to worry about, riders with much lower ratings are at risk of having drivers decline their ride request. This can leave you with longer wait times, and — if your rating drops too low — there’s the risk of being booted from Uber completely. As a former Uber driver, I wanted to share my thoughts on what causes lower Uber passenger ratings and some ways that you can boost your Uber rating going forward. 1. Be ready at the pickup location…

My Take:  There very little beyond common sense in this article, but sometimes it bears repeating common sense.  The article raises an interesting issue – do passenger ratings mean anything?  Do any of you drivers actually refuse passengers on the basis of ratings?  I’ve only done it once or twice over 1000 rides. Has anyone actually heard of a passenger who has been booted from the platform for low ratings?

Here’s the city knowledge test that Uber drivers take in Seattle

Sum and Substance:  Here, you can actually see the questions Seattle asks in their exam of potential drivers.  The lack of navigation know-how can be problematic for customers who rely on services like Uber and Lyft to get around. This also seems to be an issue that’s become more pressing as of late because of how many new and inexperienced drivers now work for Uber and Lyft.

David Plouffe, the former Obama advisor and current strategic policy advisor for Uber, spoke in Seattle last week and repeated how more and more drivers are using Uber’s platform as a way to supplement their income or as a financial “bridge” while they look for more permanent work, rather than a full-time job. A majority of the company’s drivers work 10 hours or less per week. “Every month, the number of hours that Uber drivers drive is going down,” Plouffe said.

My Take:   Again, Seattle is taking the lead of U. S. cities in requiring a minimal navigational skill.  In London, this is referred to as “the knowledge.”  All taxi drivers are required to pass tests that demonstrate that they have “the knowledge.”  They argue that because they have the knowledge, they deserve to get higher fares than Uber and Lyft drivers who don’t have the knowledge.  But there’s the nub of the problem … you get the knowledge by driving.  And during that period when you’re learning, you’re apt to make some pretty basic mistakes.  Perhaps the best part of this article are the quotes from passenger who’ve gotten drivers who don’t have the knowledge:

• My Uber driver has gotten lost three times. Good thing I speak the universal language of college football to kill some time

• I’m excited to see the post-ride map of my horribly lost and inexperienced Uber driver, will be hilarious  

• Lyft driver has taken 3 wrong turns and now goes to wrong terminal. Will now cause me to miss flight.  Uh oh …

Shit Uber Riders Say

Sum and Substance: From the Comments Section to this You Tube Video -“I have heard at least 90% of this shit over & over again been a driver for a year now and most riders are koo but just don’t ask me if I know where I’m going if you put in the address” • “And not even a f#!&€% dollar tip for the poor driver.” • “This is fn funny, and sad but true.”

My Take:  Definitely the highlight of the week for this roundup.  Great video that captures the tone and substance of what drivers put up with on a daily basis.  Now put this video up against the driver satisfaction survey that Uber released and you’ve got some real explaining to do.

Uber is looking into launching two new ridesharing services

Sum and Substance: Uber announced on Tuesday that it will trial a pair of new ridesharing services in the Seattle and Chicago metro areas. The first, called UberHOP, functions very much like conventional bus transports. It debuts on Thursday December 10th and will match groups of passengers with an Uber driver who is heading in the same direction.

However, unlike Uber’s normal door-to-door services, this one requires riders and driver to meet at a predetermined location and time (like a bus stop) as well as be dropped off at single location and walk the rest of the way to their final destination.  Additionally, the ridesharing company is also testing out another pilot program (though only in Chicago) called UberCOMMUTE. This will allow drivers who are commuting into the city center share their trip with a passenger and recoup a portion of the driving expense. And since it’s an extension of the company’s existing UberPOOL program, two or more commuters can share the ride in and defer the cost between themselves.

The service will be available Monday through Friday, 6am to 10pm. Uber reportedly chose Chicago as the site for these pilot programs in an effort to help reduce the vicious gridlock that defines I-90.

My Take:  Both of these make great sense. Slowly Uber is iterating towards a transport system that fills in all the cracks and crevices between existing options.  Good to know that Uber continues to improve their service.

Drivers, what did you think about the week’s top stories?

-John @ RSG