When introduced, destination filters were incredibly popular with drivers. Finally, some measure of control over when and where we drove, right? Unfortunately, destination filters have been clawed back, leaving drivers feeling frustrated and wondering what they can do. Senior RSG contributor John Ince covers what happened to the destination filter, why, and how drivers can try to work around the limits of the destination filter.
For the savvy rideshare driver, the destination filter (DF) was one of the all time great innovations. In theory, at least, it solved the “dead miles” problem for drivers who found themselves somewhere on the other side of nowhere. It was the solution to getting home with the meter still running.
The destination filter option gave you that warm fuzzy feeling that maybe Uber and Lyft really did care about drivers because they were willing to invest in something that solved a real problem for drivers. It was progress of the kind that really mattered to drivers, especially when Uber increased DF to six times a day back in 2017.
Okay, so maybe DF wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. With Lyft, DF expired without any warning after less than an hour if no matching requests came – sometimes in just 20 minutes or so. Other times, you got a matching request, but it would take you sideways. A few times DF actually took me to the opposite direction from where I wanted to go.
But more often than not, it worked and when it did it was like “Aha … this is really cool.”
Why is Uber Intentionally Depriving Drivers of Destination Filter Control?
The first blow came when Uber decided to scale back DF from 6 to 2 times a day. See: Uber Drops Destination Filters Back to 2 Trips Per Day. In this excellent piece by our own Christian Perea, we got some sense as to what was motivating the scaling back of DF. Perea writes:
“In the past, 2 filters for every driver meant there was little room for using the filter tactically. When Uber gave us six filters, it allowed for wider use and thus more reasons to use the filter. Let’s say it’s the evening commute and there is a 3.0x ball of Surge at the center of the city. In the past, drivers would try to get to the “Surge ball” by logging out of driver mode and heading into the surge (which is risky) OR they would stay logged in because of Quest and get a non-surge ride that took them the opposite direction of the 3.0x Surge. Some would use a Destination Filter to get to the big ball of Surge, because it effectively blocks requests from taking you away from the 3.0x surge.
Since each driver only had 2 filters to use a day, not many would use this strategy at any given time. Most saved their filters for the commute home or longer rides (a better use IMO). Those of us who would set their filter toward the surge didn’t have a big enough effect on the overall supply of drivers vs passengers. But then we all had SIX! That meant that at any given time when there was surge that A TON of drivers would all set their filters to the same spot – all hoping to get a ride towards the Surge/Boost/busiest area of the city The result of that, however, is that there are A LOT of cars only able to give rides in one direction – the direction that people don’t want to go at rush hour! So wait times go up, and those who aren’t using Destination Filter get rides from 20 minutes away.
The scaling of DF from 6 to 2 a day was phase one of the assault. Then suddenly and without any announcement, Uber began disabling DF for drivers during peak times. Whenever it happened to me, I was like, what?! … I would get this cryptic message – something like: “ERROR Driver Destinations is temporarily unavailable. To maintain network reliability, a destination can’t be set at this time. This occurs in the busiest areas and times of the day. Please try again later.”
Violating Uber’s Sacred Precepts
The wording sounded innocuous enough. It made it seem like a network error, rather than an intentional policy. But make no mistake about this – it was clearly intentional because Uber learned to their dismay that DF was undercutting one of Uber’s most sacred precepts:
Thou shalt not have long wait times.
A more transparent approach might have served them well, but Uber is not known for transparency – even under the new DK regime. Instead they leave it up to third parties like us to dig around and try to figure out what’s going on. So we’ve started poking around on message boards, asking a few key questions. Here goes …
When and where is the Destination Filter being disabled?
Uber officially won’t tell us anything more than, This occurs in the busiest areas and times of the day. From there, it’s up to us to figure things out… or guess when it might be enabled (or disabled). This causes driver uncertainty and frustration. As one of our regular readers said in an email to Harry,
“The problem is this happens ALL the time throughout the day, Monday through Friday here in San Francisco. And the even bigger problem is that it’s randomized, even dynamic — they never tell you ahead of time, you’re just denied when you try to set a DESTINATION … this new Uber policy of taking away the choice of when to set a Destination seems ridiculous. I’ve talked to them a number of times since first noticing this a month or so ago, including going into an Uber Greenlight station here recently in Daly City, but nobody really knew anything about it there – only that they’d heard a complaint or two, but had never been briefed on why it was happening…
They say it’s to make shorter wait times for riders because at times too many drivers may be setting destinations slowing down wait times — but I say it’s taking away one of a drivers most important tools … We the drivers should be able to to say when we want to set a Destination –when it suits us best or when we need it the most (i.e. after dropping someone 3 cities, turn heading back), NOT when it’s most convenient for Uber to allow it. I recognize that they have an ongoing issue with wait times for riders, but taking DESTINATION away from drivers randomly throughout the day is not the way to solve it.”
Why would they take this away when it will clearly anger drivers?
The answer is simple: because the benefit to the company far outweighs the potential costs. Think of it like this: you’ve invested big bucks in all kinds of driver recruitment and retention campaigns, but with a simple policy decision you undercut your efforts.
For the sake of this example, let’s say half of the drivers turn on the destination filter at 6 p.m. and are only willing to drive in one direction. You’ve basically wasted a half of your recruitment budget. Uber couches the policy decision in the language of longer wait times. That’s another way of saying that drivers aren’t on full alert. They’re only on half alert – and that’s a problem for the platform. The solution for the company is to do exactly what they’ve done – disable DF – even if it angers drivers.
What can drivers do about it?
Uber knows drivers can’t do anything about it. Drivers can complain – but if you’ve been driving on these platforms for any length of time, you know how much good that will do.
Uber will give on matters that don’t matter to the company, but they won’t budge on issues that directly affect their bottom line or the convenience of passengers. Again, wait times are a sacred issue to the company. So my advice to drivers is, “Don’t waste your time complaining to the company.”
Instead, get creative in your driving strategy. Here’s what one NYC driver does,
Translation: Pay attention to DF patterns. DF goes back on after 7 p.m. so plan your driving strategy around that. Plan to wind up your shift after 7 p.m. to to take advantage of DF when it comes back on.
Destination filter busy times depends on your market, but you can reasonably assume destination filters may be affected during rush hour. Plan to go out ahead or after rush hour if you want or need to set your destination filter. While some times may be predictable, you still should be able to use your DF during events, concerts, near tourist hot spots, so read up on the popular spots near you to get around destination filter “errors”.
How does the destination filter work in your city? Have you noticed certain times when the destination filter is “turned off” and when it is turned back on?
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-John @ RSG