Australian Uber drivers say the company is manipulating their ratings to boost its fees

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UberX drivers across Sydney say the disruptive taxi booking company is subtly bringing down their ratings so it can charge them a higher commission.

Business Insider has spoken to almost a dozen drivers from Sydney who say Uber is slowly bringing their rating down to eventually have them at 4.6. All of these drivers requested to be anonymous out of fear that Uber would immediately deactivate their accounts and take away their source of income.

An Uber spokeswoman has described the claims as “completely untrue”.

To understand the importance of the ratings system, once a driver reaches a rating of 4.6 they are put into a category where they can be suspended.

If a driver is suspended, they are required to have an interview with Uber, and in some cases complete a course before they are reinstated.

However, there have been recent changes to Uber’s commission structure, which sees new drivers who joined after April 24 charged a 25% fee rather than the old 20%.

That 25% fee is being applied to the reinstated drivers after they fall victim to the process for falling below the rating threshold.

One driver, who asked not to be named, said when his rating dropped he thought it was organic and that he was not performing well. After going through the official Uber process for ill-performing drivers, he was reinstated under the company’s 25% commission structure.

Other drivers are yet to be pulled down below the threshold, but have noticed their ratings drop over the last month. Some said that they would physically sit with a passenger and watch them enter a 5-star review, yet still see their rating drop by 0.01 stars afterwards.

As part of Uber’s terms and conditions, it does clearly state it can terminate a driver’s contract for any reason.

Just this week, reported an incident where a driver was threatened to be suspended after he gave a discount code to GoCatch’s GoCar service, which he also drives for. Drivers are able to do this as they are technically contractors and not employees of an individual service.

The email to the driver from Uber said:

“Your rider let us know that there may have been an incident involving promoting the GoCatch rideshare platform as well as giving him a discount card to use the service.

“If we hear of future similar complaints, we will suspend your use of Uber indefinitely.”

However, an Uber spokeswoman said to the publication that: “Drivers are of course able to use multiple apps, including Uber. To suggest we have communicated otherwise is false. Drivers have been using multiple apps since Uber first launched in Sydney in 2012, and nothing has changed.”

Uber’s rating system is a vital part to its operation, and is meant to ensure passengers always have a pleasant experience with its drivers.

After each trip, both the driver and the passenger rate each other. As stated above, if the driver falls below 4.6 stars they’re in risk of copping a penalty from Uber.

Likewise as a passenger, if your rating falls too low, it’ll make it harder for you to get picked up as drivers pass on your ride request.

Here’s what a passenger’s star rating looks like.

Dan Manchester, the president of Ride Share Drivers’ Association of Australia told Business Insider that the lack of transparency makes it entirely possible for Uber to manipulate the ratings to drop people off the system.

“The driver rating system is highly unfair, completely subjective, and useless as a performance management system, particularly when you consider that the busiest times of the week are those spent carrying drunk people around,” he said.

“In addition to this, Uber’s deactivation policy is also highly unfair and lacks any kind of transparency or balance.”

He pointed to several recent examples, including one Western Australian driver Mike Oze-Igiehon, who was kicked off, despite a good star rating, after one customer complained he looked sleepy. Uber did not give the driver a chance to defend himself.

Oze-Igiehon wrote to the Ride Share Drivers’ Association of Australia, telling them: “I felt bad because I did not sleep on the job, I have a clean history of driving for seven years with only a speed fine in 2009, and drove as a security patrol officer for six years. I felt the decision was harsh and unjust and lacked procedural fairness.

“Uber defended their action merely based on their terms and conditions saying they had the right to cancel my account any time.”