Your Private Driver: Thanks, I think

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Tuesday after the live show, right here on

Sorry for the long break, it’s been a busy few weeks as the city of Los Angeles has gradually descended into chaos–well, more than usual. First some reality TV star got elected President, and people weren’t too happy about it. Then people decided to take a break from protesting to go eat turkeys with their families, but everyone drove to see them at the same time. Those who couldn’t drive flew… and there were a LOT of those. Finally, just as things started to get back to normal, more chaos. And on top of all that, I still have to figure out what I’m supposed to do with this thing.

Uber has been pretty busy as well. In addition to a shiny new rider app that has gotten universally negative reviews from my passengers so far, the new president of ride-sharing Jeff Jones is on a self-proclaimed mission to make the lives of drivers easier, safer, and fairer. His first deed of that mission? Compliments.

I completed my merit badge collection already.
I completed my merit badge collection already.

In Uber’s eyes, this is a way to thank your driver because “sometimes, 5 stars just isn’t enough.” I dunno, normally that’s when you leave a tip, but maybe that’s just me… along with pretty much every other Uber driver out there. In fact, by far the most requested (and demanded) feature is an in-app tip function similar to what Lyft already offers, but the odds are slim that it’s ever going to happen. Uber has taken a pretty hard-line stance against tipping–they even say it’s racist–but instead are more interested in improving their drivers’ bottom line in other ways.

I’m waiting to see what those other ways are, because merit badges aren’t paying the bills. Neither are stars for that matter, but at least they serve some sort of purpose in that it tells riders that I’m awesome.

Look how awesome I am, so many stars (with no dollar value).
Look how awesome I am, so many stars (with no dollar value).

If Uber is truly serious about improving their drivers’ bottom line while still discouraging tips, then it would be a great idea to give some kind of performance bonus for high ratings or compliments. Hell, just about every other job does this already; servers are motivated by potentially high tips, workers are motivated by the chance of a raise or promotion, Tom Merritt is motivated by watching his Patreon numbers go up. OK, sure, some people are also motivated by the pride of a job well done, but for argument’s sake we’re not talking about those weirdos. At the moment, the only motivation for an Uber driver to give a five-star experience is so they won’t get deactivated. Beyond that, a driver with a 4.95 rating is treated pretty much the same in Uber’s system as a driver with a 4.61 rating; all stick, no carrot. And you wonder why drivers can be disgruntled.

Anyway, while I pass on my brilliant idea to Mr. Jones that I’m sure he’s heard a dozen times already, feel free to leave a compliment if you’re so impressed with your driver’s service. It’ll be appreciated, but a couple of dollar bills will be appreciated so much more.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!

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