When Uber first appeared on the landscape 5 years ago, I didn’t pay them much attention. The vast majority of my travel didn’t require taxi cabs, so it was a piece of technology I studied from afar. My travel patterns began changing a few years ago and I began using Uber.
There are many reasons why I prefer Uber to taxi cabs (and Lyft) but one of the primary reasons is the fact that it’s frictionless. My credit card is already loaded into the app and I just need to hit a button. No money is exchanged. Until now. As Stephanie Rosenbloom details in this New York Times piece, tipping is starting to creep into Uber’s world:
There’s no need to tip.
Uber has been saying it for years. And the car-hailing app was embraced, in part, because of it. It’s all-inclusive and cashless; one fare and one email receipt, automatically charged to your credit card after rolling up to your destination. There’s no riffling through your wallet for small bills, no idling at the curb to deal with a credit card.
But in recent weeks Uber has begun allowing drivers in two states — California and Massachusetts — to post signs in their cars that say tips are appreciated. Is this just the beginning of Uber tipping? And what does it mean for travelers?
Uber still is not in favor of allowing tipping in the cars operated by their drivers, but agreed to allow drivers to solicit tips in a couple of states. I haven’t been in California or Massachusetts since the change, but the change (and related publicity) have me thinking about how I would confront this new decision. Should you tip your Uber driver?
I initially looked at this from the prism of whether or not it would affect my Uber rating. While I maintain a high rating on Uber (4.8 last time I looked a month or two ago) I don’t believe I have a reason to do anything differently than I act today to encourage that high rating. I’m respectful of a driver’s time and am always punctual for my rides. I’m cordial and don’t leave a mess in their car. But, are there other reasons I should tip?
Should I tip because I get great service?
As a general rule, I use Uber Black when available, as opposed to Uber X or Lyft. I like having a driver who considers this his or her profession. Uber Black drivers generally have a much better grasp of the local area than those who do this on a part-time basis. If there’s traffic, I want to know my driver is aware of the alternative routes so I can get to my destination on time. And, while I’ve heard more than a handful of stories about dirty Uber X or Lyft vehicles, I haven’t yet ended up in a car like that using Uber Black.
Unless I’m on a phone call when I get picked up, I always make small talk with my driver when I get in his or her car. I’m genuinely curious how they enjoy the service and what ultimately got them interested in the service. And, Uber drivers also have the occasional great story.
Virtually all of the drivers are very happy with the service, including business levels an ultimately how much they earn. On a rare occasion I’ll hear a driver say they’re disappointed by the number of drivers in a particular area, cutting into their income. If the drivers are happy with the amount of money they earn, I don’t feel compelled to tip.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve handed a few drivers a Starbucks gift card when they went above and beyond my normal expectations. But, my expectations are already somewhat high. A knowledgable driver and a clear car are “table stakes”. That’s why I’m paying more than I would in a taxi cab or cheaper ride-sharing service.
In some markets, Uber has cut pricing to be more competitive, though I think that’s largely for Uber X as opposed to Black service. Those prices get to the heart of another matter. Tipping is prevalent in the US, more so than in a lot of other countries in the world. In many of the cases where tipping is customary, the employee is paid a wage by their employer that’s significantly lower than minimum wage. Their tips are what bring their income up to an acceptable level. As a rule, I feel compelled to tip a waiter or waitress in a restaurant even if the service is subpar. Right or wrong, that’s just the way I’m wired.
Given that the full-time Uber Black drivers are choosing to drive with Uber as opposed to another limo service, I don’t feel compelled to supplement their income. Plus, the rates for Black strike me as far enough above minimum wage assuming the driver can get enough passengers in a given shift.
I’ve heard that the lower amounts Uber X and Lyft drivers earn can make it very tough to earn a living. That’s a very valid point for the drivers that choose those services. But, given that I don’t expect them to have local knowledge or a clean car, I wouldn’t be inclined to tip even if encouraged to do so. I just don’t see ride-sharing as part of the “service industry” the same way I see a waiter or waitress. Again, right or wrong, that’s just the way I see it. I’d be inclined to tip an Uber X driver if they went above and beyond, but that’s probably the only situation.
The Chicken And Egg Problem
Now that the lid to Pandora’s Box is open just a little bit on tipping it puts Uber in a bit of a quandary. They’ve prided themselves on the ease of use. No cash needed, no transaction to process once you get to your destination. Hop out of the car and be on your way. They’ve been somewhat forced to allow the drivers to solicit tips in a couple of states which is likely to lead to more. Does that mean they should allow for tipping in the app, in the hopes of keeping the transaction “paperless”?
Reducing the friction on tipping will mean more tips for drivers. And, while that’s good for the drivers, it’s not good for the passengers. Uber Black is already more expensive than a cab. Make it much more expensive and Uber loses customers, leading to less profit. I’m already a fan of trains where available. While I’m unlikely to start riding the bus instead of Uber, if tipping becomes customary it might require me to “trade down” to Uber X or a cab in certain situations.
Bottom Line It For Me, Ed
The developments are interesting on a macro level but I don’t see anything positive for me as a consumer if tipping becomes the norm with Uber. I already get a great experience and the drivers seem happy with their wages. Who wouldn’t want to make more money?
Introducing tips doesn’t seem likely to improve the overall experience. If drivers aren’t get paid enough for rides, market efficiency should solve that problem, though it may take some time. In the interim, customers’ wallets may suffer a bit if tipping becomes the norm. That would be unfortunate for them.
Do you think Uber drivers should be tipped?
The post Uber: To Tip Or Not To Tip? was published first on Pizza in Motion