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Uber’s simplicity has propelled it into stardom as the largest ride hailing service without owning a single vehicle. I’ve used the service since 2014, posting a few hundred rides across dozens of countries dealing with driver shenanigans and corporate turning a blind-eye at every turn.

Taxis versus Uber

There’s no more whistling or flagging down a speeding taxi on a busy street corner. Uber is simple, put your destination and payment method into the app.  You’ll instantly get a price to your destination; accept the charges and (within a matter of minutes) a car shows up to take you to your destination.  What I’ve found comforting is that I have a company to hail rides in almost every country I’ve visited.  Local taxis, the fees and the driver’s ethics vary widely by locality and there’s plenty of horror stories drivers taking a longer route just to increase the fare.  Overall the Uber model eliminates the shadiness of the driver (or so I thought).

Fairness on one side

Uber has a cancellation policy that is simple.  Hail a ride and you can cancel for free (before the driver arrives) within 5 minutes.  After the 5 minute mark, there’s a $5 penalty automatically charged to you.  This policy seems benign and sort of fair – it allows for driver compensation if they’re en-route and you cancel.  The reality is far darker and very anti-passenger.  I have personally contacted Uber corporate a handful of times over the past 2 years and they refuse to acknowledge or correct the systemic bad behavior. Below is summary of the most flagrant driver violations:

The wandering driver

You hail an Uber and see the driver is 2 minutes away (they’re literally right down the road).  You watch the driver meander, turn down different streets and even stop for minutes at a time. The estimated 2 minute wait turns into 10-15 minutes.  You can’t cancel because you’ll automatically be hit with a $5 penalty.

The reason: The driver was using Lyft and dropping someone off nearby and they accepted your ride before they had dropped off the last passenger.

Frequency:  This is happening more and more as drivers are doing everything to maximize their earnings at the expense of the passenger.

Hey, where are you going?

You hail an Uber and almost instantly they call you or send a message in the app asking you where you’re going.  Most people don’t realize why the driver is ask this and automatically respond. The driver says “ok, i’m on my way” and cancel on you if they think the fare isn’t high enough.  This causes the app to search out a different driver, and in some areas there may not be another or could be much farther away.

The reason: I’ve talked to MANY Uber drivers about this and it happens because the drivers do not see your destination until they’ve picked you up.  They can call you before they’ve picked you up to get an idea of where you’re going.  This allows the drivers to cherry pick the highest fares and cancel (without any driver penalty) the lower fares.

Frequency: This happens almost every time I take an Uber from an airport (typically in larger cities).

Fairness on both sides

In reality, I don’t disagree with the cancellation fee.  It was implemented to protect drivers and make every driving movement lucrative.  Where Uber has failed miserably is not addressing or protecting their passengers who are seeing the growing numbers of drivers who abuse the system.

PROTECTING THE DRIVER: Uber charges waiting time if the driver arrives and you’re not ready.

PROTECTING THE PASSENGER: Uber should credit the passenger if the driver misses their pickup time by x%

PROTECTING THE DRIVER: Uber charges a cancellation penalty if the passenger cancels after 5 minutes.

PROTECTING THE PASSENGER: Uber should credit the passenger $5 if the driver accepts the ride then cancels before pickup.

Have you had a poor experience with Uber?  I’d love to hear your story and how Uber responded.