How Uber’s System Can Pressure Drivers to Do the Wrong Thing

Have you ever gotten a ping and when you show up, three drunks get in and you start the trip?  Then before you can pull off, the back door opens and two more drunks pile in?

Suddenly you realize, you can’t do this trip.  There are too many people in the car.

So you tell them one person has to get out.  They protest.  You say you’re sorry, but you simply can’t take five passengers in your car.

They beg and plead.  They tell you they’ll give you a big tip.  (Yeah, right)!  You tell them, no, again.  You suggest that two of them get out and just call another Uber.

Then they tell you they’ve done this a bunch of times.  They tell you that you’re the first Uber driver ever, who told them no!  You say, “Fine, so call another Uber and maybe you’ll get lucky!”

You tell them that you’d love to do it, but you really can’t.  If the cops see you, you’ll get a big ticket with a bunch of points attached to it.  So unless they’re willing to pay for your car insurance increases for the next three or five or however many years, with that big tip they promised you – you’re just not going to be able to do it.

How Ratings Can Tempt You to Do the Wrong Thing

But, suddenly you remember something.  You’ve already started the trip on the app.  When the first three people got in you thought they were ready to go so you slid the bar over to begin the trip.  That means, these drunks – who are now angry drunks – will be able to rate you!  Even if they all get out and you cancel the trip, they’ll still be able to rate you.  Oops!  Not so easy to say no anymore, is it?

Now you’ve got a big problem on your hands.  They just want to go a couple of miles to the next bar.  You’re feeling pretty darn confident that you can get there without having an accident and without the cops spotting you.  It is night time after all, and you rationalize, what are the chances a cop is going to notice there’s one too many people in the back seat?

And you do have that 1-star rating to worry about.  That’s going to really bring down your average, and it’s going to take a lot of 5 stars to make up for it.

You’re feeling the pressure.  You choices are grim.  Risk something really serious if you get into an accident?  Or something almost as serious if you get a ticket?  Or take the sure bet of kicking them out and getting a 1-star rating.


Related: UberX Drivers: STOP Obsessing Over Your Ratings!


You weigh all these competing interests in your head while you decide what to do.  You really do kind of want to take them.  Just do the trip, make the cash and be done with it.  But, you know in the back of your head there is always that risk – either an accident or a cop.

If you get into an accident while breaking the law, Uber’s and Lyft’s insurance is not going to cover you.  You could be in deep, deep trouble if that happens.  And if you get a ticket, you’re going to be paying higher insurance rates for the next several years.

In the end, you do the right thing and you force them out.  You end the trip, give them their well-deserved 1-star and you’re on to the next trip.

The next morning, they wake up, hung over and feeling terrible.  They pick up their phone and suddenly they remember how much they hate you from the night before!  So, they open the Uber app and leave you their 1-star surprise.

That is the best case scenario actually.  Getting a 1-star rating is the best you could hope for in this case.  It sure beats getting into an uninsured accident.  And it beats paying higher insurance premiums for years to come.  But, the stress all this puts you through and the temptation to do the wrong thing – is wholly unnecessary.

Uber could easily make a few simple changes to their system that would make doing the right thing a lot easier for you.


Watch: The Best Things To Do When You Get A Difficult Passenger In Your Car


Changes Uber Should Make

For one, they could from time to time delete wrongful 1-star ratings, and actually listen to the driver’s side of the story.

Of course, if they did, then pretty much every driver could come up with a story that would make him or her look good.  But, in the case of highly rated drivers who have been driving for at least a few months – Uber should give some credit to the driver.

If a driver is rated 4.82 and rarely ever gets one or two stars – Uber should listen to that driver when they say the passenger tried to pack in too many people.  Especially if the driver doesn’t make this charge every week.

Because they don’t listen, and because drivers know they don’t listen, it puts a lot of pressure on drivers in situations like this to do the wrong thing.  They’re tempted because they desperately want to keep their ratings up.

Another very simple change Uber could make that would completely eliminate these kinds of situations is they could change their system so if the driver or passenger cancels a trip before the car moves – then neither party can rate the other.  That’s very simple and it would completely remove the temptation from drivers to do the wrong thing.

If a driver has reached the pickup point and started the trip on the app – but the car didn’t move, which Uber can track – and then the driver cancels the trip, his passenger should not be allowed to rate him.

After all, why should a passenger be able to rate a driver for a trip that never actually went anywhere?  If drivers knew they couldn’t be rated by irate passengers even if they started the trip on the app – it would put the power back in their hands to easily make the right choice and do the right thing.

How Your Acceptance Rate Can Pressure You to Do Something Stupid

Here’s another situation.  You’ve declined to accept a couple of more trips than usual in the last few days and now you’re getting worried about your weekly acceptance rate.  You’ve sworn to yourself that you’ll accept all calls between now and the end of the week.

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And just as soon as you make this promise to yourself, you get a call from a passenger with a 3.7 rating!  You know it’s a really bad idea to accept this call – but you’re feel pressured to do it because you don’t want to hurt your acceptance rate any further.

Sure, Uber has said they’re not going to deactivate drivers any longer with low acceptance rates.  But you’ve also gotten wind of the rumor that says acceptance rate plus ratings is part of what Uber looks at when deciding which driver will get the next call.  So, maybe they won’t deactivate you, but they’ll be sending fewer calls your way.

This exact thing happened to me a few months ago.  I got a call from a man with 3.7 rating.  I knew better than to accept it.  But I had already rejected a few too many calls that week.  So, against my better judgment, I accepted it.  On the way to his pick-up location I couldn’t stop wondering what was wrong with him and what he had done to earn such a low rating.

I was soon to find out.  I guessed that possibly it was because he made drivers wait too long before he came out.  No problem, I thought.  If that’s the case, I’ll just cancel when the three minutes are up and collect the cancellation fee.

Or, perhaps he was rude to drivers.  In that case, I hoped his trip would be a short one and figured I could tough it out for a few minutes.

What I wasn’t prepared for though – is what ended up happening.  I got to his pickup location, which was in a good part of town, but it wasn’t clear exactly where he would be coming out from.  So, I called to ask.  Big mistake!

That apparently annoyed him greatly as he very quietly and in a monotone voice that was so annoying, it alone was reason enough for a 3.7 rating, informed me that he had put the address in the app and if I would go where the app told me to go – I would be in the right place.

Problem was though, the address that was in the app led to a very large apartment building that had several entrances.  The pin on the map told me to go to the very front of the building and wait on the street.  However, this wasn’t a street where it was possible to stop and wait.  So, I wanted him to tell me which entrance I should pull into.  He didn’t say, so I made my best guest and about five minutes later he showed up.

He got in the car and the first thing he said was, “Have you just started driving with Uber?”  The answer was no, I’ve been driving longer than most drivers.  But his inference was clear.  He thought I was an idiot for not being able to figure out which side of this apartment building he lived on!

When I pulled out of the complex, he immediately criticized me for going to the right.  I honestly didn’t know what to say.  I knew where he was going and the map said to go that way and I knew the map was right.  That was the way to go.  He told me to go some slightly different way and I said sure, no problem.  It was a little longer so at least I’d make a little more.

He sounded seriously angry the whole time.  But he expressed it in a creepy quiet but stern voice.  I was really beginning to wish I had declined this call.

After we got to the main road that would take us to his destination, he asked me if I knew who the head of Uber was.  I said I did and he asked me for his name.  I said Travis Kalanick.  He then asked for Travis’s phone number!  I told him I had no idea.

He then tried to intimidate me by asking questions like, ‘you really work for them but you don’t have your boss’s phone number?’  I mean, what can you say to a guy like this?  I wondered if he wanted the number so he could report me for not knowing what side of his building he lived on!  I knew old Travis would get a big kick out of that!  It kind of made me wish that I did have his number.

He then asked all these bizarre questions about Uber.  Like, how long have they been in business and how did they get started.  They were questions you would think someone from a different country that didn’t have Uber might ask.  But he had a perfect American accent and I couldn’t detect any signs that he was from a different country.

He spoke in such a creepy and intimidating way that he was making me feel like if I didn’t answer his questions correctly he might do something crazy.

Why Was He Still Allowed to Ride?

His trip was about 12 minutes and all I can say is, it was a very long 12 minutes.  It made me realize his 3.7 stars were very well deserved.  It also made me very angry – the more I thought about it.

I wondered how in the world is it that Uber could endanger us drivers by letting someone with 3.7 stars remain on their system?  Drivers get kicked off at around 4.5.  So, why wasn’t he kicked off a long time ago?  Why did they put me in that position by allowing him to remain on the system?

I thought the point of ratings was to protect passengers and drivers.  The original premise of ratings was, it’s strangers riding with strangers – but you don’t have to worry because if there’s anything wrong with the driver or the passenger they’ll have low ratings and get kicked off the system.  So you’ll never be matched with someone who could be a danger to you.

But that doesn’t work if no passenger ever gets booted.

One thing Uber could do to eliminate this particular form of pressure is let drivers know that if they decline trips from any passenger with less than say, 4.2 stars, they will not be penalized in any way.  And that their ability to get new calls won’t in any way be diminished.

These two situations illustrate a few simple things Uber could do to remove unnecessary pressure from drivers.  Pressure that tempts drivers to make dangerous and even life-threatening decisions.  No driver should have to worry about their rating when it comes to obeying the law.  And no driver should be put at risk because there’s so much pressure on them to accept all calls.  All penalties for declining a call should be removed when the passenger has a rating below whatever minimum Uber chooses.

What do you think Uber can do to improve their system so it is more fair for drivers? Let us know in the comments below!


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