How Uber Punishes Drivers Who Refuse to Use UberPool

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Harry here.  Drivers have never been a big fan of UberPool but now that there’s no acceptance rate requirement, and drivers are starting to ignore more and more Pool rides, drivers are getting put in time-outs by Uber.  Seems sort of childish but more importantly, it seems more and more like employee-like control.

Today, senior RSG contributor John Ince takes a look at what happens to drivers who refuse UberPool, an interesting look at who Uber and Lyft drivers are, and a couple feel-good Lyft stories.

In this roundup, we look at what happens to drivers who refuse UberPool, who Uber and Lyft drivers are, & review a couple feel-good Lyft stories.

How Uber punishes drivers who refuse to use UberPool [CNN]

Sum and Substance:  Uber has adopted a tactic with its drivers that parents use on misbehaving children: timeouts. 

Uber drivers who turn down ride requests risk having their workday paused as Uber locks them out of its system for up to 15 minutes. Some drivers wait patiently for the timeout to end. Others just call it quits for the day. 

One Uber driver in Los Angeles told CNNMoney he’s generally put in four 4-minute timeouts by Uber each day. The driver, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fears of retribution from Uber, refuses to accept any UberPool rides. With UberPool, riders traveling to similar destinations are grouped together in the same vehicle. Riders receive a discount for using UberPool. Uber claims the service can help drivers make more money because they spend less time waiting between rides. (Ride requests are generally sent to the driver who is nearest to the person requesting a ride.)

Yet Uber drivers are generally unhappy with UberPool, according to interviews with two experts, seven drivers and an extensive review of online forums where thousands of drivers congregate, including Facebook and Reddit. The Independent Drivers Guild, which advocates for New York’s 35,000 Uber drivers, calls UberPool a top issue for drivers.

 My Take:  Yes, definitely UberPool has emerged as one of the most unpopular features of the TNC world.  Beyond the issue of more work for less pay, I’m convinced that UberPool and Lyftline are significantly less safe than normal rides.  Drivers get requests en route that often require sudden turns, sometimes coming when the driver is in the wrong lane.  Pickups are messy, and disgruntled passengers are apt to give drivers low ratings.  For all these reasons, many drivers simply don’t accept UberPool requests.

Now Uber takes driver’s offline for a few minutes when they let a few requests pass without acceptance.  While this can be an inconvenience, remember low acceptance rates can’t get you de-activated anymore, while high cancellation rates can.  Unless you’ve got a really good reason, don’t cancel but do ignore Pool requests

Who are the Uber & Lyft drivers? [Medium]

Sum and Substance:  For months, I’ve been running around the U.S. and Canada, interviewing drivers from Uber, Lyft, other ridehail services, and some taxi drivers, to find out more about who the drivers are and how they manage their work across a diverse set of regional contexts.

I’ve heard some stories over and over again, like driver dissatisfaction with unfair ratings, or driver appreciation for being able to set their own schedules. There are fascinating edge cases too, like anxieties around information privacy, that might anticipate other services companies can offer to help drivers. I’m going to start writing out some of my early findings (all the names are changed to protect driver privacy).

Some drivers are using Uber and Lyft to improve their English language skills. This is one of the amazing things about ridehail work — you can be instantly employed with limited or no dominant language skills. One driver in Palo Alto spoke no English, and the app instructed him in (what I think was) Mandarin.

The spectrum of Uber and Lyft drivers includes hobbyists, part-time earners, and full-time earners, and within that spectrum is a salient divide between drivers who rely on their income as a primary source of support to sustain their families, and those who do it part-time for extra cash, but do not rely on it as they would a full-time job. In Charleston, South Carolina, Austin, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Toronto, Ontario, I’ve met retirees who drive either because they have spare time or they want to keep busy and they enjoy meeting new people, or because they also need to subsidize their retirement incomes.

My Take:  This is an interesting research project, but not a whole lot of surprises in this article. Raise you hand if you didn’t already know that:  most drivers are doing it because they don’t have the option to do much of anything else or that a fair number of hobbyists do it because they like the conversations.   Yes, there are reasons to drive beyond money – which leads into this next article about the reported Lyft soul.

The Power of Purpose: Lessons from a Lyft Driver [By Andy Burtis, LinkedIn]

Sum and Substance: A lot is being written these days about the power of purpose. It seems every company is trying to articulate an authentic purpose, translate it into their communications and business practices, and use it to distinguish themselves from the pack. But does purpose really matter? 

I had a first-hand experience last week that, for me, unequivocally answered that question. My wife and I were returning from a dinner in the Marina district of San Francisco and we did what everyone does these days: we ordered an Uber. I’ve been using Uber for years and I use them all the time as an example of a company that delivers a “superior customer experience.” Uber has amazing technology, clean cars, flexible pricing, nice drivers—the list goes on. The experience is such a step-change improvement from the legacy world of taxis that the entire global taxi industry seems headed for extinction. More proof that Uber is killing the taxi industry

So, back to my story…there we are, waiting for our Uber—or more precisely, our UberX. Up comes a black Nissan Altima with an Uber sticker in the window and that funny Lyft pink mustache in on the dashboard. You see a lot of that these days—drivers that drive for both Uber and Lyft. So I asked the driver, “Which company do you like better?”

“Lyft,” he said.

“Why’s that?” I responded.

“Well, for one, Lyft lets people give tips, so that’s better,” he said. “But the other reason is that Lyft has a soul.”

My Take:  Lyft has been very clever and creative in promoting their service.  Last spring they enlisted Golden State Warrior, Andre Igoduola, in an April Fool’s prank on teammate Festus Ezeli.  That prank actually turned prescient as Ezeli is no longer with the Warriors.  This article, although well written, has the feel of a plant by Lyft PR.  It makes a semi-valid point by suggesting that Lyft has a soul.  My experience that Lyft passengers are a bit more chatty and less condescending.  Whether that translates into soul is debatable, but it still makes for a good PR angle.

Anthony Ponce quits NBC news to drive for Lyft, produce podcast [Chicago Tribune]

Sum and Substance: He had a well-paid, high-profile job and a pedigree that qualifies as Chicago TV royalty. So news that Anthony Ponce had quit his gig as a reporter and weekend morning anchor for NBC-owned WMAQ-Ch. 5 to drive a car for ride-hailing service Lyft had media folk scratching their heads Monday morning. Has the 37-year-old Ponce — the son of “Chicago Tonight” host Phil Ponce and brother of WGN-Ch. 9 morning anchor Dan Ponce — lost his marbles?

While Ponce conceded that NBC bosses’ decision to pass him over for a promotion to replace the departing Stefan Holt as a morning anchor had figured in his reasons for quitting TV after nine years with WMAQ, he said it allows him to finally pursue a passion project: recording passengers who ride in the back seat of his Chevrolet Equinox. 

Audio recordings that Ponce has been making since March while he secretly moonlit as a Lyft driver will soon make their way into a podcast Ponce is self-producing called “Backseat Rider.” Inspired by hit podcasts including “Serial” and “This American Life,” as well as a recent trend for car-based interview shows and segments such as Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke,” Ponce says the chats with strangers who ride with him will go beyond the “15 second soundbites” that typify TV news and “don’t allow you to deal with complexity.”

“Audio is so much less intrusive than video and a car can be like a miniature recording studio,” he said. “People really open up when they don’t have a giant camera in their face — I’m not even looking at them when we’re talking because I have my eyes on the road.” 

Among the passengers who have poured their hearts out to him are a woman who detailed how her boyfriend tried to kill her and is now in prison, and an exotic dancer from a strip club who told Ponce how she expected the NFL Draft to be one of her busiest weeks of the year. 

But Ponce said most of the stories he hears and values are less lurid. A Chicago Public Schools lunch worker, who has a second, overnight job at Target to help put her kids through college, and the CEO of a consulting firm both spoke to him with the knowledge that Ponce wouldn’t use their names or faces in his podcast. Ponce, who said he has been meditating and soul-searching for the last year about what direction to take with his life, added that he was careful not to let his bosses at NBC know when he started driving for Lyft after hours four months ago. “I kept it a secret and I parked my car across the street when I went to work at NBC — I was banking on none of my passengers snapping a photo or posting something on social media,” he said.

My Take:  I took notice of this story because I’ve got my own podcast in the works and have been doing a lot of research on podcasting. It’s a medium ideally suited to what we do – and I’ve found passengers surprisingly open to being recorded.  Some get tongue tied when they know they’re being recorded, but most soon forget the mic is on and come up with some amazing personal stories. The big challenge here is how to build up your audience.  A big story like this in a major newspaper like the Chicago Tribune is a great way to start that process. What do you think?  Would you listen to a podcast about being about being a driver?

Readers, what do you think about this week’s stories?

-John @ RSG

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John Ince

John Ince is a former Fortune reporter and Wall Street banker. He has about 1,000 rides under his belt driving part time for Lyft and more recently Uber.  He’s writing a book about his experiences entitled:  Travels With Vanessa:  A Rideshare Driver Tries To Make Sense of It all – For a sneak peak visit: www.TravelsWithVanessa.com

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