Uber’s policy on tipping is simple and clear: “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.”
And yet, and yet.
I am a confirmed opponent of tipping, whether it’s waiters or taxi drivers or hotel housekeepers.
Companies should pay their workers a fair and reasonable wage; subjecting a portion of their income to the whims of customers is cheesy ay best, downright unethical at worst. (As reported here, there’s a case to be made that tipping has its historical roots in racism.)
I’m also a fan of Uber, not least because of the company’s no-tipping policy. Given a choice between Uber and a conventional taxi, even with identical all-in prices, I’ll choose Uber every time. It’s just a more seamless transaction, from booking through paying.
So why do I find myself walking away from my Uber rides wondering whether I should have slipped the driver a couple extra bucks? (Unlike the Lyft app, which includes the option of adding a tip to the ride price, there’s no tip field in Uber’s app.)
While Uber’s highest-profile problems revolve around disputes with the traditional taxi industry and local government regulations, there’s a rising tide of resentment among drivers over the company’s compensation policies.
I first became aware of the driver discontent in conversations with acquaintances who drive part time for Uber. After the initial elation at the job’s flexibility, the drivers were finding that their real earnings, after expenses for fuel and vehicle maintenance, were paltry. And Uber’s recurring fare discounts, to increase ridership and boost market share, were eroding their profits even further.
And it’s not just my friends who are grumbling. Although the numbers have so far been small, Uber drivers have been increasingly vocal with their displeasure. There were protests in San Francisco on Super Bowl Sunday, in Pittsburgh on Valentine’s Day, and in New York on the last day of January.
Which brings us back to my tipping dilemma. I hate tipping, and I love Uber. But I don’t want to participate in underpaying anyone for their labor. Just as I would like to see restaurants increase their menu prices to cover higher base wages for their workers, and eliminate tipping, I’d like to see Uber raise its rates or reduce its commissions, to adequately compensate its drivers, and maintain its no-tipping policy. But no such changes are likely in the near future.
So for now, I’ll keep a few singles in my pocket, to tip Uber drivers. And I’ll be looking increasingly seriously at downloading the Lyft app to my smartphone, with an eye to switching ride-share services.
There will, in other words, come a time when my dilemma—and I’m not alone in this—will materially affect Uber’s ridership, and its bottom line. The company would do well to adjust its pricing and compensation policies before that happens.
Reader Reality Check
Do you tip your Uber driver?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.