Some Uber drivers are unhappy with the company.
But the next step for the drivers is a multi-city protest on Oct. 22, which will take place in front of Uber’s various offices from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. EST, in cities across the country including Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and even across the pond in London.
The multi-city protest is organised by a newly formed nonprofit group called the California App-Based Drivers Association (CADA), Teamsters Local 986 (a Southern California-based union), and groups that have sprung up on social media, like Uber Drivers Network NYC, who organised a protest in September outside Uber’s New York City offices in Long Island City, Queens.
“We’re hoping we can coordinate a mass demonstration, potentially around the globe on Oct. 22 so that we can get the message across that these policies are not just affecting drivers in Los Angeles, but anywhere Uber operates,” Joseph De Wolf Sandoval, an Uber driver and the president of CADA, told Business Insider.
However, one group of protesters — Uber Driver Network NYC — will not participate in the Oct. 22 protest. Instead, in solidarity with the CADA-organised protest, the drivers will simply shut off their phones, effectively disallowing potential Uber customers from hailing them.
What do these drivers want?
According to De Wolf Sandoval, Uber drivers have a handful of issues with the company, including Uber’s reduced fares, Uber’s tipping policy, the five-star rating system, and driver safety. “It’s not just a small group of disgruntled or unprofessional drivers, as Uber would like to cast us,” De Wolf Sandoval told us. “But it’s a nationwide feeling of general unhappiness and unease with policies and programs that are being promulgated by Uber without the drivers’ input whatsoever.”
Uber made its fares too low
In July, Uber reduced its UberX fares, effectively making Uber a cheaper option for getting around the city than a taxi. In September, Uber decided to extend its reduced UberX fare promotion indefinitely.
Uber said the cuts in fare — which were presumably made to keep Uber competitive with other companies like Lyft — would lead to drivers having a greater volume of customers, which would offset the lower fares Uber drivers were taking home.
However, many drivers are unhappy about this. They say they’re unable to pick up more clients to make up for Uber’s lower fares, as the company suggests. They say they’re actually losing money.
Oris Fortuna, an Uber driver, told Business Insider at an Uber driver protest outside the company’s Queens, New York, offices in September, “Since Uber implemented the 20% off discount on all Uber rides, I’ve been losing $US200 a week. To make up for it, you have to work 20% more. That means more mileage and more gas. An $US8 trip is not worth it.”
“What the UberX drivers are finding out here in Los Angeles and around the country, from our discussions on social media, is that it’s a lot of very short calls that can eat up their driving hours,” De Wolf Sandoval said.
“I’ve asked them this: ‘Are you doing better now than you were six months ago?’ And not one single driver that we’ve spoken with, or one of our members, has been able to say, ‘Yes, I am better off now than I was six months ago.’ We asked the question: ‘Do you think you’re going to be better off six months now than you are today?’ And unfortunately, they believe it’s just going to be worse and worse because of the fare war between Uber and Lyft.”
We reached out to Uber numerous times, and we’ll update the story if the company responds.
Facebook/Uber Drivers Network NYC
Uber drivers congregate outside of Uber’s offices in Queens in September 2014.
Uber’s tipping policy is confusing at best.
At the September protest in Queens, Naresh Motwani, an UberSUV driver, told Business Insider that he signed up to be an Uber driver in April and regrets it.
When Motwani signed up with Uber, he asked Uber about the tip policy. “The answer I got was ‘we do not charge tip. We give an all inclusive fare to the customer.’ I asked, what if the customer wants to tip anyway? Her response: ‘Do not accept any tip from the customer.’ I do not remember if she said to tell them the tip is included.”
Motwani said many customers want to tip him, but Uber’s app doesn’t allow customers to add a tip, as Lyft’s does. Some of his customers give him cash tips.
In December, a federal judge ruled that Uber drivers could sue the company for deceptive marketing that told customers that Uber fares already included a tip, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Uber’s marketing initially said ‘The tip is included in the fare,’ and that was absolutely not the case,” De Wolf Sandoval said. “The fare has always been the calculation of the distance and the time and the base fare and any surcharges and any tolls.
“And never has there been, in UberBLACK, UberSUV or UberX’s platforms, a calculation for the tip. And it’s impermissible, from a labour standpoint, for management to take a percentage of tips. And surprisingly, Uber tried to get away with it anyway by saying ‘The tip is included in the fare’ — but that would also mean they’re taking a percentage of the tip, if they’re taking 20% off the fare.”
Uber does have a system where 20% of the fare is added to the base calculations as a tip — that service is called UberTAXI. But drivers won’t get tipped as long as you’re in an UberX, UberBLACK, or UberSUV vehicle.
When Business Insider reached out for comment about Uber’s tipping practice, the company pointed to a section of its website called “Do I Have To Tip My Driver?,” which says:
Being Uber means there is no need to tip drivers with any of our services.
When using uberTAXI (requesting a ride from a cab via the Uber app, available in select cities), drivers will input the metered fare into the Uber driver application. A default 20% of the metered fare will be automatically added and paid to the driver as a gratuity. You can select the percentage amount of the gratuity by signing into your account at uber.com then clicking the ‘Payment’ link at the top.
Customers are confused about the tipping system.
“Unfortunately the customer still believes there is no need to tip because the tip is included. I routinely speak with my customers about the tip issue and everybody I have had this discussion — frankly, they’re shocked that there is no tip included,” De Wolf Sandoval said.
“They insist that the tip is included, and that is what Uber has told them. Some of them felt that they have been misled and they’re angry with Uber because they feel like when they leave the Uber vehicle and they haven’t left a tip, really what they’re doing is appearing cheap or unconcerned about customary gratuity norms.”
Introducing an option to tip within the Uber app, De Wolf Sandoval says, could solve many of the drivers’ complaints. “Even with the higher commission and lower fare, if the tips were back on the table, drivers feel they may be able to earn a livable wage,” he told us.
“They’re a technology company, they could certainly figure out how to change their application to allow tips. Lyft has done it and it doesn’t seem like it’s been a great technological hurdle to jump. And you know, I recently read that Uber hired Lyft’s former COO. So it seems to me that if Uber can’t figure out how to add a tip to their phone app, maybe they can hire someone from Lyft who can.”
Uber’s five-star rating system is a great idea, but it has serious flaws.
Uber drivers we spoke to seem to agree that the rating system is generally a good thing: It keeps drivers in check, and it’s one of the biggest differences between taking a cab and taking Uber. You have a pretty good idea what kind of service you’ll be getting based on a driver’s rating, and the driver knows what to expect based on a passenger’s rating.
Drivers also seem to appreciate that customers can very easily write comments about their experience to give valuable feedback to drivers. The system works to provide a way for customers to let Uber know about problematic drivers.
But the rating system is also dreaded by drivers because of how easy it is to fall below the “acceptable” rating Uber requires its drivers to meet or exceed.
“Drivers can potentially suffer a two-week timeout if they fall below 4.7 on the rating system, and they can be permanently deactivated if they fall below a 4.4,” De Wolf Sandoval told us. “Customers, however, may continue to request rides even if their rating is below 2. I’ve picked up people who have had a rating of 1. So it’s a sword that only cuts one way.”
De Wolf Sandoval says drivers are always aware of the threat of a damaging one-star rating. In one case, he says, he picked up a customer running late for a flight out of LAX. The customer asked him to run a red light and speed, both things that violate traffic laws and California vehicle code. But if he didn’t do it, he risked getting a one-star rating, and potentially being deactivated from Uber’s system.
Drivers say they fear their customers as well.
“Drivers are subject to hostile environments and sexual harassment, assault, and being involved with people who are potentially dangerous, like extremely intoxicated people,” De Wolf Sandoval said.
“And the driver, essentially, has to grin and bear it. I’ve talked to female drivers who are hit on, sometimes actually touched by male customers who may have had too much to drink. Number one, they’re afraid of saying anything because they’re afraid of getting a bad rating. Number two, they financially can’t just stop and cancel the trip and ask them to get out, because then they have lost a potential fare that could mean the difference between a half tank of gas and a full tank of gas. And number three, the customer, if you do stop and ask them to exit the vehicle and you want to cancel the trip for whatever reason, they become violent.”
De Wolf Sandoval suggests Uber could create an incentive system for drivers that provide excellent service.
“I would suggest that if a driver has a weekly rating above 4.9, Uber would take maybe 15% of the commission rather than 25% of the commission,” De Wolf Sandoval said. “And this would certainly be an incentive for drivers to provide the very best service — because the very best service would affect them positively, financially, and not just as an avoidance to being punished.”
De Wolf Sandoval says Uber should meet with drivers — just not individually, as the company does now, but with groups, like his California App-Based Drivers Association, or the Uber Drivers Network NYC. De Wolf Sandoval would like Uber to listen to drivers’ complaints.
“The drivers’ representatives should be able to speak openly and freely and frankly about these issues, and without fear of retribution or deactivation,” he said. “You go to the website and talk to them and they say drivers are our partners. But none of the drivers I know, that I’ve spoken with feel like a true partner because the risks are not shared.
“The drivers are taking all the risks; they’re paying for their insurance, they’re paying for gas, maintenance, everything. And it seems like it’s a one-sided partnership.”
De Wolf Sandoval cited the recent example of Google bucking the independent contractor trend and hiring its security guards as employees. He doesn’t know if it’s possible for Uber to do the same thing, though.
“Uber’s whole business model is built around having other people take the risks as independent contractors. And I don’t know if they can change that; it’s built into their business model. It’s how they’re making so much money,” he said.
“And from my perspective and CADA’s perspective, it seems it’s a grey area right now, whether we’re truly independent contractors or employees. Because Uber does exercise quite a bit of control over how the drivers conduct their day to day basis. They really are reaching quite a bit behind that driver’s wheel in how the driver does business. It’s something that I’m sure will be looked at more closely because it is a pressing issue.”
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