Editors note: Jetsetter’s Homestead does not encourage or endorse Uber hacking techniques.
The number of “hacks” for passengers to cheat Uber seems to be growing, prompting discussion among drivers about Uber’s fare adjustment practices.
On several Uber driver message boards and private groups in the past week, drivers around the US are reporting new issues with the popular ridesharing system and passenger practices.
In the past, I’ve discussed my thoughts on hacking applications such as Surge Protector that can lead to increased costs and decreased fares for drivers. These new issues pose more concerns for drivers for Uber, not just with pay but also with insurance liability concerns.
1. Passengers cancelling rides while using the service
Drivers in several cities have reported that the rider interface is allowing passengers to cancel rides that are actually in progress. Drivers who are not paying attention to the Uber app while driving (for example, those who are not using Uber’s navigation or driving with a window phone mount) may continue driving without noticing that the passenger actually ended the ride while in progress.
Uber has reported to some drivers who have inquired that this is a safeguard for passengers should they notice that their driver has failed to end a ride or has somehow started a ride they are not on. But several drivers have reported passengers who have purposely ended rides while en route either to try to lessen their charges or to try to avoid a surge fare.
This poses an issue not only with fair driver compensation but also insurance liability. Uber’s insurance policy is two-tiered. A basic commercial occurrence policy covers drivers any time that the Uber app is open (i.e. they are accepting rides) but the larger liability policy that covers passengers is only in effect while a ride is actually in progress (i.e. the time between the time the driver slides the button for “start ride” and the time the driver slides the button to “end ride”). A user cancelling the ride not only ends the higher degree of liability coverage but after a ride cancellation, a driver may need to manually log back into the Uber app to be considered “online” at all.
As well, if the driver is still logged in but not currently on a ride, they can receive “pings” for a new passenger pick up, one that may be different than the passenger in the vehicle at the present time.
Drivers who continue driving would have to appeal to their local Uber office to have the fare correctly adjusted – and typically this would be a driver versus passenger scenario.
What Would Jetsetter’s Homestead Do (WWJHD)?: As a driver, if this were to happen to me – and it has on one occasion – I would pull over and immediately end the ride, regardless of whether the passenger was at their final destination. If the passenger wanted to continue the ride (assuming the cancellation was accidental), I would give them the option of rerequesting the ride and restarting with a fresh ride fare. This is not only to allow for fair monetization of the ride, but also to protect both the driver and passengers in terms of liability.
2. Passengers ending the ride on the driver’s app
This one takes some gall – I’ve heard two different stories in the last week about passengers using the driver’s phone to end the ride early. In one case, the driver’s phone was on the console and a passenger grabbed the phone and swiped the “end ride” button on the driver’s app while they were at an intermediate requested stop. In the second case, the driver was unloading luggage while one passenger remained in the vehicle. That passenger proceeded to reach over to the driver’s window-mounted phone and not only end the ride, but also rate herself. (Uber drivers rate passengers the same way that passengers rate Uber drivers.)
Ending the ride prematurely is a dangerous prospect for both the driver and the passenger for the reasons noted above. Also, self-rating as a passenger compromises the system of checks and balances Uber has in place (typically low rated passengers are abusive to drivers, disrespectful of their vehicles, or pose other concerns for driver well-being).
WWJHD?: I have a window-mounted phone and I have zero tolerance for passengers reaching into my space as a driver. Trying to grab my phone would be grounds for the passenger ride ending. As in scenario one, I would pull over and end the ride. Also, I do not end rides until all passengers and their belongings are out of my vehicle. If I have to exit the vehicle to load luggage, my phone goes with me.
3. The disputed enroute stop conundrum
Jamie at The Forward Cabin brought forth an interesting scenario this week in his post that included the title text “How to Ride Uber for Free” where he had an entire ride comped due to the driver making a restroom stop enroute.
It’s unknown whether Uber had any dialogue with the driver in question as its common practice for Uber to adjust fares without driver discussion (I’ve had it happen!) – in most cases, a ride readjusted to $0 would result in a $0 ride for the driver’s compensation as well.
While I understand the reasons behind Jamie’s dispute, I think Uber’s action was extreme and that the marketing of this as a possible way to ride Uber for free sets a dangerous precedent.
Enroute stops are a common part of the driving experience. I’d estimate that 15% of my passengers make requests to stop somewhere enroute (and sometimes somewhere completely off route as happened with my second-to-last ride on New Year’s Eve). Often these stops are at convenience stores (like the one in Jamie’s case) so the rider can pick up beer or cigarettes.
Drivers have no way of documenting via the app that the extra stop was at a passenger request. Sometimes those stops are lengthy – like the guy who had me “swing by Target” so he could pick up groceries – and easily could be reported later as ME (the driver) requesting to stop.
WWJHD?: I can’t refuse all stops but I can cover myself as a driver by keeping good notes on passenger requests. I always enter the interim stop as a destination on Uber’s app so that their navigation guides me to the location and then re-enter the original destination after the stop ends. In extreme cases, a driver can end the ride at the stop and tell the passenger to re-request the ride after they have completed their business at the stop. As a driver, I review my daily statements and if a ride is adjusted, I can have the local office review the reasoning behind it.
Driving for Uber continues to be an adventure – and as new hacks and potential scams emerge, drivers must remain vigilant to avoid falling prey to passenger manipulation.