Uber Tells Drivers to Shut Up with Quiet Mode

Uber recently unveiled Quiet Mode, in which passengers can request a ‘quiet Uber ride’ guaranteed to provide them a driver who won’t engage in chit-chat. Senior RSG contributor Jay Cradeur shares his thoughts on Uber Quiet Mode and what it says about the state of drivers.

I don’t know why I am so irritated by this latest Uber “enhancement.”  But I am. I don’t like it.

The change only applies to UberBlack, but we all know how Uber likes to test things before rolling them out to everyone. So let’s learn more about what this new feature is all about.

Uber Announces “Quiet Mode”

Uber recently announced a few new enhancements to the Uber Black and Uber Black SUV platforms.  Uber Black is Uber’s premium service, which allows passengers to ride in nicer cars at 2X – 3X the standard Uber X rates.  Here are the enhancements detailed on Uber’s website, now available in all markets in the United States:

  • Quiet Mode: if you need to respond to emails or are in the mood for a nap, make your trip a quieter one with just one tap. If you’re in the mood to chat, that’s an option too.
  • Help with Luggage: let your driver know an extra pair of hands is needed for your luggage.
  • Temperature Control: communicate your optimal temperature before entering a vehicle
  • Extended Pickup Period:  riders will have a little extra time to get to the car when unexpected delays pop up.
  • Premium Support: access premium phone support with live agents if you need something to be made right.
  • Professionalism: ride with confidence knowing that your professional, commercially-licensed driver is at the top of his or her game.
  • Consistent Vehicle Quality: expect the same kinds of rides, every time, with consistent vehicle model, makes, interiors, and exteriors.

The Ride Preference Feature is very easy to use.  Once a passenger requests a ride, a screen comes up with three options:  Conversation, Temperature, and Bags. This screen comes up before the passenger is matched with a driver.  It looks like this:

In this case, I selected Quiet preferred for my conversation, Warm for my temperature, and No bags.  Next, the passenger taps on “Confirm Preferences” and he or she will be matched with a driver.

Reactions to the Uber Quiet News

I have read many articles on this issue and the ‘quiet mode’ part has seemed to stick out.

While there are some passengers who feel the quiet mode is long overdue, there are just as many commenters who feel this feature de-humanizes the drivers.  What do you think?

For those passengers who think this is long overdue, I have to ask you why has it been so hard, up to this point, to ask your driver for some peace and quiet while you are being driven around town?  

Many of my passengers sit in the back seat, look at their phones and disengage.  Some fall asleep. Some have told me they just need quiet. It all has seemed so very civilized. I did not realize passengers were feeling so stressed out.

Are passengers so socially inept that the prospect of asking a driver for a quiet peaceful ride is simply too stressful to bear?  Have we as social beings devolved to the point where buying silence is required even in an Uber car?

An astute reader pointed out Juno actually already has quiet mode, called Bliss.

Do You Have to Obey Quiet Mode?

Since Uber does not grace us with the option to be employees, we are all ICs (independent contractors).  Therefore, Uber can make requests. We can honor those requests, or we can disregard those requests.  However, if we disregard those requests and get complaints, then Uber has every right to stop using your services.   

In the image above, we see what looks like a very talkative driver and a young woman in the back who is being tolerant.  We already have a rating system designed to weed out the poor, overly socially aggressive drivers.

Hopefully, the woman in the back of the car got up the courage to ask the driver to allow her some peace and quiet.  Hopefully, she gave the chatty driver a poor rating and if warranted, posted a strong complaint with Uber. These actions lead to better drivers.  These actions lead to deactivation. So while Uber cannot control your behavior, they can deactivate you and stop you from being a rideshare driver.

Uber Quiet Mode: Only for Those Willing to Pay

When evaluating this feature, we must take into account the extra price the passenger is paying for the Uber Black or Uber Black SUV service.  For example, I can take a ride from my home to the San Francisco airport for $11.52 using Uber Pool. By contrast, that same ride would cost $43.77, or almost four times the price, using Uber Black.  

For drivers who are reaping the benefits of the higher priced rides, are they more compelled to toe the line and shut their mouth?  Perhaps. I have taken many Lincoln town cars to the airport and the driver was always very quiet. I paid quite a bit for the ride, and the driver knew how to handle himself.  There were no rules about talking or being quiet, but rather the driver knew how to read his or her passengers and respond accordingly. Good driver behavior leads to better tips.

Driver Pride

We the drivers are being turned into robots and we are being stripped of our pride in achieving a job well done.  No kidding, I take pride in the work I do for Uber and Lyft. I have emphasized the importance of being a good listener.  I have coached students to avoid diarrhea of the mouth.  

This new enhancement takes all the skill out of the driver – passenger interaction.  If I were an Uber Black driver, I would miss that challenge of doing a superlative job.  If I were an Uber Black driver, I would resent passengers that tried to shut me up. If I were an Uber Black driver, my pride would be shot.

Driver Enhancement Suggestions

I would like to suggest a few new features for the Uber Driver app.  Uber, could you give us, the drivers, the same features?.  Sometimes I don’t like talking either. I would like to notify my passengers that they may say “Hello” to me, but after that, I would rather they just sat like an inanimate object in the back seat of my car.  

I get tired of the passengers and their incessant questions about Uber versus Lyft, can I really make a living doing this, and what is my weirdest or longest ride?  It is, after all, my car. I paid much more for my car, and the insurance, and the gas, than the passenger who forked over $43.77 to go to the airport.

I would also like the option to only be offered rides that don’t request quiet mode.  I would prefer to drive only those passengers who are not so socially challenged. I fear I may inadvertently damage them during my ride by speaking a few words more than “Hello.” Or, I might say “Hello” too loud, or too soft.  I prefer to drive passengers who can engage in even the most basic of human interaction. Can you do that for me, Uber?

The Trend Toward Dummying Down the Role Of The Driver

This has been going on for years now.  I used to manage my time so that I could get long rides during the middle of the day and avoid traffic during rush hour thereby earning more revenue.  Then both Uber and Lyft lowered the per mile rate and increased the per minute rate. It takes far less skill to sit in traffic than to avoid it.

I used to maximize surge and get huge fares on long trips. Now, those options are gone with Uber’s new flat rate surge.  Instead, anyone can drive to a zone and earn an extra few bucks.  And now, instead of earning a big tip by reading a passenger and responding accordingly (being quiet or having a chat), I am being told by the passenger to either talk or shut up.  I fear this will also lead to lower tips.

On the one hand, our job as a driver is getting easier. On the other hand, our revenue continues to get cut because virtually anyone can do this job. The easier Uber makes the job, the bigger the labor force from which they can pull drivers.  The bigger the supply of drivers, the demand for skilled drivers is decreased and so is the revenue one can earn.

Summary of Uber Quiet Mode

If the “Quiet Driver Mode” does come to UberX, and I fully expect it will, I will be one happy camper for I have tied my horse to the Lyft post.  But if Uber were my only option, I think my cancelation rate would go up. Frankly, if a passenger is telling me to shut up through the app, I don’t want that passenger.  

Oh, sure, there will be times when a quiet passenger will be a welcome respite and I will accept.  But for the majority of rides, I would like to have a real, not orchestrated, human interaction. While Uber tries to turn drivers into robots, this independent contractor will find somewhere else to drive.  Be safe out there.

Readers, what do you think of Uber’s new Quiet Mode?

-Jay @ RSG