Have You Been Sidelined by Uber?

A couple of months ago, Ridester reported that Uber’s CEO announced that Uber had started looking for ways to send drivers with higher ratings to more passengers. We still have no official word yet on what they’ve come up with, but we did note with interest this week that drivers around the country have been...

A couple of months ago, Ridester reported that Uber’s CEO announced that Uber had started looking for ways to send drivers with higher ratings to more passengers.

We still have no official word yet on what they’ve come up with, but we did note with interest this week that drivers around the country have been talking about indications that the trips they’re receiving seem to be tied to something other than the mere distance between them and the rider.

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In online forums and groups, this week, drivers have commented on the strong signals they’re getting that customer requests are being sent to drivers based on their:

  • Driver rating
  • Acceptance rate
  • Cancellation rate
  • Quality of their car
  • Distance to passenger

Driver Ratings

Driver ratings seem to be the most influential factor in getting ride request when drivers are in crowded areas with a lot of other drivers nearby.  This makes sense too when you think about it.  If Uber has an excess number of drivers in a particular area – that means there are several drivers who could get to the rider very quickly.  So there is no discernible difference when it comes to distance to the passenger.

Uber’s computers would look at that and basically say, ‘regarding distance to passenger – all things are equal – move on to next criteria’.

And the next criteria seems to be driver ratings.  If all things are equal when it comes to distance, why not look at other criteria?  It makes sense to start with ratings because this will give passengers the best  possible Uber experience.

Acceptance Rate

Your acceptance rate is the percentage of incoming calls that you accept.  Every driver should strive to have a 100% acceptance rate.

Uber and Lyft no longer penalize drivers with deactivation even if their acceptance rate is really low.  That’s because they’re afraid courts might rule that drivers are employees if they exercise that much control over how drivers perform their work.  Traditionally, companies could not force independent contractors to accept any particular jobs.  But Uber and Lyft have essentially done just that in the past.

So now, instead of deactivating drivers for low acceptance rates, they simply push those drivers off to the side and send jobs to drivers with higher acceptance rates.  And why shouldn’t they?  Why should they keep sending jobs to drivers with low acceptance rates?  That just hurts the service as passengers have to wait longer and longer to be assigned a driver.  So while making good legal sense, it also makes good business sense as well.

Safety:  While drivers should strive for a 100% acceptance rate, that’s not always possible.  And you should never put your safety at risk in order to achieve this perfect goal.  If you get a call from a passenger with a super low rating, like a 3.8, you shouldn’t accept that call.  They might have a low rating because other drivers have felt unsafe with them in the car.

Cancellation Rate

Cancellation rate is the rate at which drivers cancel passengers.  Usually, like with acceptance rates, this is measured on a weekly basis.  Uber and Lyft strive to have a 0% cancellation rate but of course, that’s not possible in the real world.  There are times when drivers have legitimate reasons for cancelling on a passenger.

For instance, when you get to a passenger’s pickup location and four people come out, you think all is well, so you start the trip.  Then suddenly a fifth person shows up and they insist that you let him in.  But your car may only be legal for four passengers.  You have to turn them down and kick them out – and you then have to cancel the trip.  It was no fault of your own, but to Uber and Lyft, it’s a “cancellation” nonetheless and they count it against you.

As with acceptance rates, Uber and Lyft no longer officially deactivate drivers with high cancellation rates – and for the same reasons – so they won’t be seen by the courts as acting like an employer.  But also like they do with drivers with low acceptance rates, drivers with high rates of cancellation get effectively sidelined.

A lot of drivers brag about not accepting every call – indicating their pride in the fact that they won’t take calls that they consider are beneath them.  And they brag about cancelling riders who for whatever reason don’t live up to their expectations.  While they may feel like they’re getting one over on Uber and Lyft – in the end they’re not.  In the end, they’ll find themselves sidelined and marginalized by the two services as most calls will get sent to better drivers.

There are times when you’ll have to cancel or can’t accept a call – but you should keep them to an absolute minimum.  Only cancel when you absolutely have to.  Never cancel because you’re hoping for a better trip.

Quality of Your Car

Some drivers have observed that they get calls before other drivers who are closer and they are assuming that it’s because of the quality of their car.

When you drive for any of Uber’s or Lyft’s higher-end services, you are qualified to drive for that level of service and all levels beneath that level.  So, if you qualify to drive for uberBLACK, you can also drive for uberX.  If you drive for uberSUV, then you also qualify to drive for uberBLACK, uberXL, and uberX.

We’ve had reports from Select, Black and SUV drivers that when they sign in and opt to accept trips from any of the lower services, they seem to be getting priority on those trips.  If an uberBLACK driver, for instance, tells the app they’ll accept uberX calls – then they seem to get first dibs on those calls.  This makes good business sense as well for Uber because passengers get a much better experience.

How This Changes Your Strategy

In the past, a driver’s strategy was based on the assumption that the only thing Uber considered when sending a call to a driver was which driver was the closest to the passenger.  Now, we know for certain that that’s not the case.  They do consider proximity to the customer, but they have also admitted to considering several other things as well.

When distance was the sole consideration, then it was okay to think short-term.  In a world where distance is the only consideration, then nothing else matters.  You’re not rewarded or punished for good or bad behavior.  But in a world where other things are taken into consideration, then you’ll have to shift to a more long-term view.

If your acceptance and cancellation rates are two of the factors Uber takes into consideration when deciding which driver to send a call to – then if you’re short-sighted and cancel trips whenever they don’t suit you – you’ll quickly find yourself getting a lot fewer trips!  But if you’re long-term minded and you go ahead and take the trip that you really wish you could cancel – then in the future you’ll find yourself getting more and better trips.

What Drivers are Saying

In online forums and groups, drivers are really noticing these changes.  Here are a few comments that will give you a sense of what drivers are experiencing.

  • ‘Uber seems to have me sidelined ever since I began turning down pool trips. Now I’m getting only low-quality rides.’  A lot of drivers turn down the annoying pool rides, but be warned, if you do that now, it could seriously affect the quality and quantity of trips you get in the future.
  • ‘I’m seeing it. I have a 4.93 rating with a 93% acceptance rate.  And now my average ride is worth $15!’  This driver has a very high rating and a high acceptance rate and he’s getting trips that are higher in earnings than the average trip.  He has been rewarded for giving great service and keeping a high acceptance rate.  Now he gets more rides and longer ones.
  • ‘My rating slipped recently and I started getting much shorter trips. So I switched to Lyft for the last week.’  Drivers are going to have to be on top of their game – at all times if they want to succeed.
  • ‘I drive uberSUV and last night I had opted to accept SUV, Black and XL calls. I got an XL call but turned it down.  The call then went to another driver who I know and he was much closer to the passenger’s pickup location.  It was a long ride.  His rating and my rating are the same so I strongly believe the system was trying to give me a long ride because of having a higher-level vehicle.’  If you drive a luxury SUV and are willing to accept XL calls – you will get the XL call over another driver, all other things being (nearly) equal, because you have a higher-quality vehicle.


Jonathan Cousar began driving for Uber in 2013 when the ride-hail company first began operations in New York City. He has booked more than 7,000 trips. In 2014 he created Uber Driver Diaries, which was the first blog by an Uber driver describing the highs and lows of driving as well as offering tips and tricks and information on the industry as a whole. In 2016 Ridester acquired the site, and Jonathan began writing full-time about the rideshare industry and the gig economy. He has also done extensive research into driver issues related to pay and working conditions.

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