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6 min read

    6 min read

    The other week, Uber hosted the first Driver Advisory Forum. This forum brought in diverse drivers from around the United States and was an opportunity for drivers to share their feedback and contribute to a better dialogue between Uber’s leadership and drivers. Today, senior RSG contributor Christian Perea covers the Forum and how you might be able to get involved in the future.

    Last week, Uber flew 35 drivers out to their headquarters in San Francisco to participate in their first ever Driver Advisory Forum. Drivers from all over the US spent the day meeting with Uber executives ranging from the Chief Operations Officer to the new(ish) CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. This forum was all in the name of providing feedback and creating a better dialogue between Uber’s leadership and those of us who make the company run where the rubber meets the road.

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    Although there is obviously a huge public relations element to this (okay, it’s mostly PR), it’s interesting to see how drivers got an all expenses paid trip to Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco with a chance to go behind the scenes a bit and voice their experience and opinions – something which almost certainly would never have happened while Travis K was at the helm.

    Note: We were not invited to the event but did speak to Uber on background and gathered info on our own from attendees.

    Real Uber Drivers

    What is Uber’s Driver Advisory Forum?

    I would say right now it’s about ½ public relations and ½ focus group that allows Uber executives and leaders to connect with drivers from various backgrounds, locations, and financial motivations with the goal of opening a dialogue between Uber corporate and drivers.

    Uber has also engaged in other means of reaching out to drivers and communicating more directly with us. For example, they invited Simple Driver and Uber Man to interview a few of their executives. You can take a look at their respective interviews below.

     

    The focus group aspect allows for executives and others at Uber to spend a short amount of time speaking to drivers directly in order to address their concerns and hear feedback around features and products. This is actually more useful than one might think.

    Harry and I have actually had similar meetings like this with folks at Uber and Lyft in the past and they were definitely working meetings. These meetings were often spent rapidly meeting people from different parts of the companies in 30 minute blocks, watching them rapidly type notes in their MacBooks. My point is that it’s actually very valuable to get a bunch of drivers together and bounce feedback/ideas off them in real-life.

    We’ve even seen some of these feedback sessions turn into real changes!

    What the Forum Isn’t…

    I think it’s also important to not confuse this as a bargaining table or any sort of thing where drivers have any hard power to get things done. It’s not a company union or special driver council or anything that will likely affect major change at Uber. It’s highly unlikely to lead to Uber raising the rates of pay on the rate cards.

    One of you will need to get the ball rolling on that. 🙂

    That’s not to say Uber has bad intentions, but it’s important to point this out. To Uber’s credit, I think they’ve been pretty straightforward in this through their communications with us.

    The Trip To San Francisco

    The drivers selected to attend the Driver Advisory Forum were flown to San Francisco and put up in the Hotel Nikko. Their meals and other expenses were covered and they also received $500 in ride credits from Uber to get around San Francisco during the meeting.

    Drivers met with Uber early at 9 a.m. and stayed at Uber’s headquarters throughout the day. They met with various product managers, Uber’s new COO, Barney Simpson, and then ended the day by meeting with Dara Khosrowshahi.

    Drivers meeting with Uber employees

    It was actually pretty tough to get info from drivers who attended, since they were asked to sign a few pages of confidentiality forms and NDAs.  But according to Uber, key topics discussed consisted of driver earnings, support, in-app navigation, and Uber’s vision for the future.

    As I mentioned above, drivers also got to meet Dara Khosrowshahi at the end of the day. They spent about a half hour or so shaking hands and talking about where Uber is heading in the future… which is probably a half hour longer than Travis would have spent with drivers.


    Fun fact: Dara’s rap video is here

    Future Driver Advisory Forums

    Uber says they plan to do these bi-annually in the future. The next one should be in June, so keep an eye out for signups to appear around May.

    Uber Selects Attendees

    According to Uber, they aimed to make their selection of attendees as diverse as possible. This meant they selected people throughout the US who drove for different services like UberX, UberEats, part-time drivers, full-time drivers, new drivers and veteran drivers.

    About a month before the meeting, Uber sent out an email and included an in-app notification letting drivers know they could apply to attend the advisory forum. Those who were selected received a message like the one below from Uber:

    If you ever do end up going to one of these forums, I suggest you do two things:

    1. Prepare notes on what you will be critical of during the meeting. Think of 2-3 big things.
    2. Communicate these clearly and offer potential solutions.

    From my experience with driver focus groups, a lot of drivers go in one of two directions. Either supreme suckup-ery or supreme heated never-ending-complaining and arguing. Both kind of get the meeting nowhere.

    My Thoughts

    Obviously this is part of the big public relations push to repair Uber’s image with drivers. However, this kind of stuff goes a long way in demonstrating that Uber is, in fact, sometimes talking to their drivers in real life.

    Most mature companies do stuff like this. Old Uber would never have done this, so this does indeed signal that Uber is changing from a more adversarial position toward something pretty much everyone is more comfortable with: a boring corporation.

    We’ll have to see if any actual changes come from this first meeting with drivers. Uber says they will update drivers soon with what was discussed and what their next steps are.

    I encourage all of you to apply to attend in the future though because, for one, it’s a cool and mostly free trip to San Francisco where you get to go behind the scenes a little bit to see how they make the crayons at the crayon factory. Two, it’s got a good “field trip” factor by combining SF with Uber HQ and you just might get to influence the driving experience in the process.

    Drivers, did you receive notifications of the Driver Advisory Forum? If you were to go, what would be the one or two big things you would want to discuss?

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    -Christian @ RSG

    Christian Perea

    Christian Perea

    In 2014, Christian left his job at a mental health center to drive full time for Lyft and Uber. Since then, he has driven for mostly Lyft with a little bit of Sidecar and Postmates thrown in for experimentation and Uber when he doesn't feel like talking to people. He likes to talk about Politics and Economics over a good beer to whoever will listen to him.

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