Last week I received an earful of anger from an UberX driver about how recent discounting by the ridesharing app is translating to less money for its drivers.
He complained about how expensive it is to operate a car in San Francisco and that his costs are going up at a time when his revenues are going down. He said he thought that Uber “wants all its drivers to end up homeless” or “put Lyft out of business” and that he supported the various driver protests taking place in San Francisco during Super Bowl week.
Since I had accepted his ride at 1.6x surge I asked, “Well it seems I’m paying Uber surge pricing a lot more these days, don’t you guys make more when a surge is in effect? And aren’t you paying less for gas these days?”
He said something like, “Yes, we make more during surge, but it’s not enough to counteract the losses during non-surge, which is most of the time.” He did not respond to my question about lower gas prices.
His diatribe went on for nearly the length of my 20-minute ride across town. When I got out of the car, I thought to myself, “Jeez this guy needs to find another job.”
I also wondered if perhaps he was gunning for a tip.
I did not tip him, but it made me wonder… should I be tipping my Uber drivers these days?
When Uber first cranked up five years ago, one of the hallmarks of the new service was that it was cashless… there’s nothing to do at the end of the ride except to say “thanks” and “goodbye.” It was my understanding that the tip was built into the rate and that the the tip would be taken care of by Uber.
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But that understanding and ease is starting to erode. I’ve asked around have found that, at least anecdotally, a lot of folks are now tipping their Uber drivers with cash. I get emails from Uber drivers asking me to encourage users to start tipping more. As a matter of fact, I did a quick Twitter poll this week and found that about 30% of my followers regularly tip Uber or Lyft drivers. And with UberX saving me so much on rides these days, I wouldn’t mind tossing in a tip from time to time.
But should I?
Uber’s FAQs clearly discourage tipping, stating, “You don’t need cash when you ride with Uber. Once you arrive at your destination, your fare is automatically charged to your credit card on file — there’s no need to tip.” So if you do want to tip your driver, you have to do it with cash– which can be unwieldy and time consuming and awkward if you don’t have the right change. (Update: UberTAXI does allow users to leave tips)
On the other hand, Lyft, which I have started to use a lot more frequently, encourages tipping, but only after the ride. When you get your receipt, it asks if you’d like to tip your driver. It even offers a “how to tip your driver” page on its website. Nonetheless, when I ask my friends if they tip on Lyft…or ask my Lyft drivers how often they get tips, it sounds somewhat rare.
On FlyWheel, the taxi industry’s new mobile platform, “You can adjust the tip amount (percentage) at any point during your ride or up to 5 minutes after. The tip is automatically applied and charged to your card along with the metered fare and $1 service fee. On average, most passengers leave a 20% tip so that’s where we set the default amount.”
So, in the end, even though that Uber driver irritated me with his complaining, he made me re-assess my tipping practices when it comes to ride-sharing. So starting now, if I have a few extra bills or a $5, I’ll offer it to a good Uber driver. And I will regularly say “yes” when Lyft asks me for a tip. And as always, I’ll tip my taxi driver with cash, or via FlyWheel.
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