Uber has been in the news a lot lately, with a sexual harrassment scandal which led to a temporary leave of absence for CEO Travis Kalanick (update: Kalanick resigned), and a highly publicized spat between the CEO and one of his drivers. Uber drivers have been in the news for rape and murder. Still, investors love Uber. Riders love Uber, too. Drivers? Not so much.
I drove for Uber for more than two years, but recently stopped. There are hundreds of reasons why it’s a terrible job, but these are my top 11 reasons why it sucks to drive for Uber.
(Author’s Note: Just days after I first posted this blog, Uber’s CEO resigned, and Uber rolled out answers to many of the complaints in this post, including a tipping option, after years of ignoring driver complaints)
Uber lies to drivers
Uber’s primary recruitment mantra is you can set your own schedule. While it is technically true that you can logon and logoff any time you like, if you want to make any kind of living wage, you cannot set your own schedule. To make decent money as an Uber driver, you have to be willing to work the late-night bar rush, and that comes with the hassle of dealing with belligerent drunks and in-car vomit. If you drive mornings or daytime, as I did, you should expect to make less than minimum wage. Drivers in places like midtown Manhattan or other heavily populated locales might be able to make money in the daytime, but we don’t all drive in New York City, or Chicago, or San Francisco.
Uber is trying to monopolize the rideshare market and that leads to driver abuse. To maximize ridership, Uber must keep fares as low as possible. That’s great for riders, but terrible for drivers. The pay is awful, and tipping has become an ongoing sore spot.
When Uber first launched, their instruction to riders was: tipping is not only not necessary, it’s not allowed. Uber later changed course and decided to allow tips, but it’s cash only. They have flatly refused, time and again, to implement an in-app tipping option, where riders could tack three bucks onto their bill when they have a particularly good driver. In my driving experience, fewer than 5% of riders leave a tip.
Uber support is mindbogglingly inept
Even riders have complained about Uber’s terrible support system, but it’s even worse for drivers. Last year, Uber eliminated their support email address. At one time, drivers could simply email a support@Uber.com email address and get help. No longer. Now, Uber’s help system is linked to fares. You can only email about specific trips and problems related to those trips. Need someone to take a look at your vehicle registration? You’re out of luck. There’s nowhere to email someone about an issue like that.
In addition, Uber’s support is based on a system of scripted responses to anticipated problems, so it’s not uncommon to get a response from a support rep that doesn’t even apply to the concern a driver raised. It’s the equivalent of ignoring a driver concern. Just send a non-sensical, scripted response so we can say we responded.
There’s also a lack of attention to detail from support. I once had a situation where Uber rolled-out an app update that caused the iPhone to use battery faster than the phone could recharge itself. Even though it was plugged in, the battery went dead before I could end a rider’s trip. The rider got overcharged because I was miles down the road before I could turn my phone back on and end the rider’s trip. When I contacted Uber support about the issue, to get the rider’s fare reduced, the rep asked me “How much should we reduce the rider’s fare?” and I answered “Four dollars.” Instead of reducing the passenger’s $16 fare to $12, they reduced it to $4. Not by $4, but to $4. I lost $8 because the rep had no attention to detail.
Uber micromanages drivers
Uber will do anything to avoid frustrating riders, so they manipulate drivers through acceptance rates and app behavior.
Uber drivers are not allowed to decline trips. Any trips. Even though drivers don’t get paid for driving to the pickup location, drivers are expected to accept every request they receive, no matter how far away it is. If a driver fails to accept a trip request, their acceptance rating falls, and they receive a nastygram from Uber reminding them that their driver account can be deactivated for failure to accept trip requests.
Uber further manipulates the process through the app. There was a time when ride requests were accompanied by a map, a street address, and the rider’s name, but Uber soon learned that drivers would decline trips more often when they spotted a rider they didn’t like, or an address that was too far away, so they changed the app. Now, the map is simply shown in a little round window on the screen, too small to glean any useful information about the rider’s location, and the ride requests no longer show a rider’s name or address until after the driver accepts.
Uber’s app is glitchy
Sometimes a trip request comes in and when a driver accepts, an error message pops up and the trip simply disappears. In other instances, a driver will accept a request, begin navigation, start driving to the pickup location, then the trip simply disappears from the screen with no error message at all. Wasted gas costs for the driver. Sometimes those same trips will show up later as a missed request or cancellation, which affects the driver’s rating.
I recently had a trip where the rider, through an app glitch, was allowed to cancel his ride after he was already in my car and on the way to his destination. I had to navigate through Uber’s terrible support system to get paid for the trip, and still didn’t get paid what I was due because of the aforementioned inattention to detail.
There’s a systemic issue with Uber navigation due to confusion between picking up riders at the location of the pin, a location based on GPS coordinates, or picking up the rider at a street address. A rider who requests a pickup in a new neighborhood, or in a place where there are odd streets, like a college campus, will sometimes expect their driver to pick them up at the location of the pin, but the Uber app will show an address which is nearby, or a nonexistent address. The driver never knows whether the rider is expecting them to drive to the pin, or the address.
Furthermore, too many riders don’t know the app allows the user to zoom in and place the pin on their exact location before they make a request. Instead, they simply request a ride and allow cell tower triangulation to locate them, which leads to incorrect pickup locations far too often. If a driver spends too much time trying to locate a rider, the rider will inevitably give the driver a low-rating. Uber has made no effort to educate riders on the usage of the app.
There is no solution for trips where drivers lose money
I drove a lot in the mornings, ferrying riders to work and school, but because there are far fewer drivers working in the morning, I frequently got trip requests from people who were far from me. I once got a morning trip request that required me to drive 80 blocks to pick up my rider (28 minutes just to arrive at the pickup location), and when he got in the car, his destination appeared on my screen. It was a half mile away. I got paid less than five dollars for the trip, and to add insult to injury, I got all the way back home without getting another trip request. I spent about 45 minutes in the car, and God knows how many gallons of gas, for less than five dollars.
On another occasion, I got called to a location in a subdivision a couple miles outside of town, and when I arrived, the rider called me to ask where I was. I told her, and then she informed me she was at a bar five miles away. Somehow she had misplaced the pin when she requested the ride. More gallons of wasted gas.
Uber has no provision for wait time. Riders can make a driver wait as long as they like, burning gas (to run the air conditioning in the summer, or the heat in the winter) and there’s no compensation. Drivers can wait twenty minutes, cancel the trip and leave, and get penalized for canceling the trip. Uber’s chief competitor, Lyft, compensates drivers for excessive wait time.
Uber is unconcerned with issues like this. There is no minimum trip fee, no compensation for drive-to-pickup distance, no wait fee, and no driver compensation when riders who don’t know how to use the app call you to locations miles from their actual location.
The wear and tear on your vehicle is terrible
It’s a fact you accept when you become an Uber driver. I put 18,000 miles on my car last year. With compensation so low, it’s not worth it, especially considering drivers pay for their own fuel, insurance, and maintenance. You could buy a new vehicle and wear it out before you’ve paid it off.
Uber’s attitude toward drivers trickles down to riders
Uber’s failure to treat good drivers with respect is mirrored in inconsiderate riders who eat in drivers’ cars, leave garbage (even bodily fluids… retch) in the car, bring non-service animals in the vehicle without permission, and the list goes on. I once had two riders who had been working to clean up a construction site bring bags of garbage in the car.
Uber ignores their own rules in the interest of ridership
One of Uber’s steadfast rules is that drivers are always supposed to ask for the rider’s name when they get in the car to make sure they’re picking up the correct rider, but Uber does not require riders to use their real names. I once picked up a rider whose name was displayed as “A Subby Wife.” On another occasion, I picked up a transgender rider who had assumed the name of a famous female pop star. That one was quite a letdown, I’ll tell you.
Riders are allowed to request rides for people in a different locations
I’ve had countless ride requests from people who were requesting a ride for someone who was in another location. A mom requested a ride for her daughter and grandson, and when I arrived at the location, the daughter and grandson weren’t there. A single mom at work requested a ride for her kids at home, and when I arrived, the riders were a fifteen year-old-girl with a medical condition and two toddlers in diapers without proper car seats. The list goes on.
The problem with requesting a ride for someone in a different location is it makes it impossible for a driver to communicate with the rider by putting the ride requester in the middle. When the driver attempts to communicate, the message goes to the phone of the person who requested the ride, not the person waiting for the ride, which increases wait time, wasted gas, and failed fares when the rider isn’t where they’re supposed to be, or if the driver can’t find the rider.
Now, before any Uber defenders brand me as a degenerate in a jalopy with no people skills, I’ll say this. My lifetime Uber driver rating is 4.92 stars out of 5. I drive an SUV in “Limited” trim level, and I keep it clean and smelling nice at all times. I open doors for my riders, I help them load and unload their luggage, and I work hard at making small talk when it seems like the rider wants to talk, and I’m comfortable with silence if it seems like they don’t. Even so, tips are rarely forthcoming, and Uber has no apparent interest in retaining drivers like me, instead choosing to continue with rock-bottom wages that attract only the lowest quality drivers. If you’ve ever had a terrible Uber driver, ask yourself if you’d be willing to pay a dollar or two more to ensure a clean, quality vehicle, and a driver with a pleasant personality. Uber could attract better drivers by pairing better background checks with better wages.
Now that Travis Kalanick’s leave of absence has become a permanent departure, will Uber’s new leadership implement in-app tipping and better wages to retain quality drivers? Thorough background checks for drivers? Will they implement a handbook for their corporate employees that embraces safe workplaces and respects societal norms with regard to workplace behavior? Only time will tell.
In closing I’ll say, driving for Uber can be tremendously entertaining. I enjoy meeting people, and helping them get where they’re going, very much. I’ve overheard hilarious conversations. One time, a rider, having a conversation about a friend named Jason, asked her friend “Which Jason? Baseball Jason, or one-arm Jason?” and her friend responded “One arm.” On another occasion, I picked up a group of tipsy cougars at an upscale local hotel/bar and one of them said, “Oh my God, I had so much cameltoe in my pants last night.” I’ve also been told some heartbreaking stories, and I’ve been called to dangerous situations, too, like the time I arrived to pick up a rider who said someone was trying to kill him, and that person was on their way there, right that moment. The police were also on their way, but he wanted to know if I was willing to wait, in case his potential attacker arrived before the cops, I could be his escape.
Experiences like these make for great stories, and I’ve been making a journal of them so I can potentially write about them some day, but I can no longer drive for Uber, a company that cares so little about their drivers. I fully expect my driver account to be suspended after I publish this post, and if that happens, I’ll write about that too. It makes no difference to me, because I drive exclusively for Lyft these days, a company that understands the balance between profit and happy employees.