Over the last several months in New York, Uber has been deactivating drivers like crazy! As I’ve come to hear these stories from drivers, I am most often comforted by learning that Uber seems to be mostly getting it right when they deactivate a driver. But I’ve been surprised by a few of the deactivations because they were for reasons that a driver could not be reasonably expected to be aware of.
One of the surprising things about this most recent round of deactivations is that Uber seems to have become a lot more adamant that once an Uber account disabled, it will never be reactivated. In the past, drivers could go in and appeal and Uber would usually tell them they could be re-activated as long as the driver admitted to what he did wrong and was able to show that he understood why it was wrong and promised to never do it again.
The Independent Drivers Guild (IDG) is a union-related organization in New York that represents drivers. When a driver is deactivated they can request that the IDG help them appeal their deactivation to Uber. I’ve spoken with several people who volunteer to work on these driver appeals and they have told me that Uber is taking a much harder line than they have in the past and that they seem to be looking for reasons to deactivate drivers. I have no idea if Uber is doing this everywhere, my sense is that they’re doing it in mature markets but probably not so much in their younger markets.
Many of us are hoping this is because Uber has realized they have way too many drivers on the road. They have far more than they need to meet the demand and a lot of drivers spend mindless hours sitting around waiting for calls each day. If this is why Uber is doing it, then they’ve chosen a sensible way to reduce the number of drivers – by getting rid of the worst drivers.
One driver friend of mine who volunteers with the IDG to help drivers with their appeals, told me that recently he represented a driver who had been deactivated, not by Uber, but by another competing TNC in New York, called Juno. This driver reported that he had no idea why he had been deactivated and he told my friend that it must have been for something minor.
He and my friend then headed off to the Juno office to talk to somebody about it. The Juno representative they met with finally grew tired of this driver’s excuses so he pulled my friend aside (who was there to represent the driver), and said, “Do you want to know why he was really deactivated – and why we will never put him back on our system?” My friend said, “Sure”! The Juno rep then told him that this driver had received 16 complaints saying he was texting while driving – in the last 30 days! He received another 14 complaints for reckless/unsafe driving – in the last 30 days. He also received seven reports for speeding – in the last 30 days.
The driver’s response was that he never texts and drives and that the passenger must have mistaken his tapping on the Juno app for texting. Or, the passenger was just lying. He kept referring to the “passenger” in the singular, inferring that only one passenger had reported this. The problem for him though, was that 16 passengers had reported it! So, think about that – these are 16 different people who don’t know each other from Adam – reporting him for the same thing over the course of a month. What are the chances that all 16 somehow decided to lie about this poor driver – in the same month? The chances are about the same as they are for winning the $1.6 Billion PowerBall!
Another driver my friend tried to help was deactivated by Uber. They headed to the Uber office one day to appeal. The Uber rep sat there and read off a list of infractions and violations the driver had committed over the last three months. Then, he looked at the driver and said, “And on top of all that, the reason you will never be reactivated is because last month, you rang up $10,000 in fraudulent charges!” Basically, that means Uber paid him around $10,000 for trips in which they ultimately didn’t get paid because the passengers were using bad credit cards.
Fraudulent charges are usually from people who are using stolen credit cards. The cards are good when they first enter them into the Uber passenger app as their payment method, but as soon as the bank discovers they were stolen, they withdraw any monies they paid to Uber from Uber’s account to reimburse themselves for the loss. So Uber ends up holding the bag.
Obviously, the typical driver is not going to have any idea whether or not the credit card a passenger uses is stolen. That’s Uber’s job to figure that out. And if the average driver ever gets a fraudulent trip it’s normally going to be a normal ride at an average price. Uber may lose $10 or $15. That driver is obviously not going to be called on the carpet by Uber.
But, in this case, for a driver to have racked up $10,000 in these fraudulent trips makes it impossible that the driver didn’t know. It means he was doing many of these kinds of trips every week. Therefore, he not only had to know, but he had to be in on it as well. So, this particular driver was permanently deactivated with no chance of appeal.
These two deactivations make sense, and it’s pretty obvious that these two drivers should have been deactivated. But there are some deactivations that don’t seem to make sense to the drivers they happen too, but once you understand the entire story, they do.
When a Deactivation Makes No Sense to the Driver
Pre-arranged trips are forbidden by Uber. Drivers are not allowed to talk to any passenger before a trip for the purpose of scheduling a pickup with them. This rule is apparently to protect Uber from drivers soliciting passengers to become their private clients. But, you may say, they’re not soliciting them to become private clients because they’re still doing the trip through Uber and Uber should be happy about that. Yes, except that, any form of solicitation could eventually lead to the driver persuading the customer down the road to use him exclusively and to do so outside of Uber.
The scenario works like this. You get a talkative passenger and you strike up a nice conversation with them. You’re dropping him off at a hotel and during the ride he mentions that he’s going to be leaving in the morning for the airport. You say, “Oh, why don’t you let me pick you up and we’ll do it through Uber so it’ll all be on the up and up.” The passenger thinks it’s a great idea because they like you and they’d rather get you tomorrow than risk getting some unknown driver.
The passenger also feels safe because you didn’t ask them to go outside of Uber, thereby cheating the company that brought you the passenger. But, on their second go ‘round, on the way to the airport the next morning, they keep talking and things become even friendlier between the two of you. Next thing you know the passenger says, “Hey, give me your number and I’ll call you next time I’m in town.” And that’s it! Uber loses this passenger anytime he’s back in town. That’s why Uber forbids pre-arranged trips.
But how does Uber know if a trip has been pre-arranged?
Let’s re-do this scenario with the same passenger. Suppose you pick him up and drop him off at his hotel. He never mentions that he’s going to the airport the next morning, but you, being a smart driver, decide that the hotel where you dropped him off would be a good spot to start out the next morning. So, you show up at the hotel early the next morning and wouldn’t you know it, you get a ping from this same passenger! He had no idea that would happen and you may have guessed it could happen but you had no certainty that it would. There was no discussion about it between you and the passenger and therefore there was no pre-arrangement.
That’s not how Uber would see it though. He would be put on a “watchlist” where they would take note of the fact he picked up the same passenger twice and wait and see if and how often it happened again. If it never happened again, the driver would be fine. But if it started happening every day or every week, he would eventually get a warning about it.
Another driver friend of mine, who drives a Black/SUV vehicle for Uber, found a spot in the New Jersey suburbs where almost every day the same man took a company-paid Black car to his office in New York City. This trip would net my friend around $120. The first time he picked this passenger up, he simply guessed that he might do the same thing again tomorrow. So, he showed up in the general area of his house at around the same time and sure enough, he got a ping from the same man.
After that, my friend showed up there every single day, Monday – Friday. I would have too! And three, four or five times every week, he would do the same trip for the same guy. He would make between $500 and $600 a week just off of this one passenger. Yet, it was never pre-arranged! They never once talked about it or said, ‘let’s do this again tomorrow.’
This went on for three or four months, and then suddenly, he got a message in the Uber driver app informing him that they had detected “fraud” on his account. They told him to stop doing whatever fraudulent activity it was that he was doing. But the message was very vague, it didn’t provide any specifics so he had no idea what it was talking about. He wasn’t knowingly doing anything fraudulent.
He ended up having to go to the Uber office to find out what was going on. The people on email support were clueless and couldn’t help him. At the office, they told him he’s not allowed to do pre-arranged rides. He told them it had never been pre-arranged, it was just that he had a strong feeling this man would be doing this trip every day so he showed up there every day to do the trip. They then told him he’s not allowed to take the same passenger more than three times. He said he would stop and everything was fine after that.
Notice though, that when he got the warning through the app, he immediately went into talk to them about it because he didn’t know what the warning was for. If you know what the warning is for, then there’s no need to talk to them about it – just stop doing it – immediately.
If you don’t resolve the problem at this stage, the next step is they will send you an email with a stronger warning. And that will be your last warning. If you continue to do whatever it is you were doing after that, you’ll be deactivated – permanently in most cases. It is therefore, essential, that you nip it in the bud at the first warning.
Another “random” deactivation
Another driver I know had something similar happen about two years ago. He picked somebody up from a bad neighborhood in the Bronx and this guy had him drive him around for several hours, going back and forth between different locations. At the end of the time he was happy to see that after Uber’s commission he had made over $300!
Next thing he knows, he was deactivated! A couple of days later he went to logon to the Uber app and he got a message saying something to the effect that there was no record of him being found in their system as a driver! That’s quite an alarming message to get – especially if, like in his case, there was no warning at all.
He hustled over to the Uber office as quickly as he could and they told him he had been deactivated because he had done a trip on a stolen credit card. He was a relatively new driver at the time, only having driven for a couple of months at that time. He asked them how he could have possibly known it was a stolen credit card! A reasonable question, for sure. He said, “I thought that was your job to take care of the credit cards and payments, I don’t know anything about that.”
They then informed him that if he gets a suspicious trip, he should cancel it. He asked them how he could have known this was a suspicious trip and they said, anytime someone keeps you with them for several hours just going back and forth from one place to another – that’s always suspicious. Well, he had only driven a couple of months, so how would he have known? Fortunately, they agreed to re-activate him and he’s been driving for them ever since.
Back then, Uber was quicker to deactivate and more lenient about re-activating. Now, they’re much slower to deactivate, collecting evidence and making sure they’re getting it right, plus sending you two warnings. But because they’re more careful about deactivations they’re also much more strict about reactivations. It’s now almost impossible to get re-activated once they’ve deactivate you.
They do a better job now, making sure that you actually deserve to be deactivated, and they’re careful now to send you at least two warnings first. Not only are they very sure you’ve violated a policy before they deactivate you, they’re also quite sure that they’ve informed you of the violation and given you a chance to stop. Because of that, it’s almost impossible now to get reactivated.
If you get a first warning and don’t get it taken care of at that stage, you could be very close to a full deactivation. They’re showing no mercy now.
Bottom line: It’s essential, if you get any warnings from Uber, to immediately cease and desist from the activity or if you don’t know what the warning is about, you must contact Uber support immediately to find out.
We asked, and you answered. Here’s the results from our driver poll on Uber’s deactivation policy:
Did you get deactivated by Uber? What steps did you take to get reactivated? Let us know your experience by dropping a comment below.