Signaling that possibly only one man has been standing in the way of Uber drivers being able to receive tips from passengers as they can with ride-hailing rival Lyft, the company announced Tuesday that tips for Uber drivers will now be possible in the app starting immediately in three cities, and in all US cities by the end of July. As CNBC reports, the announcement comes just a week after CEO Travis Kalanick went on leave, and it addresses a main complaint that drivers have had with Uber for years while Kalanick has held firm to his "principled" stance that Uber should remain tip-free.
You can read Uber's full email to drivers here, laying out a 180-day plan to make "meaningful changes & improvements" to drivers' experiences. In addition to the tipping option, the company is decreasing the cancellation window for passengers from five minutes to two minutes, addressing another longtime complaint of drivers.
From the email:
Tipping is available in Seattle, Minneapolis and Houston as of today. We're starting with only 3 cities so we can create the best tipping experience for you and your riders. We'll be adding more cities over the next few weeks, and will make tips available to all U.S. drivers, by the end of July 2017. Of course, Uber service fees are never deducted from your tips.
It remains to be seen where in the interface the tipping option will appear, especially once it's nationwide. As users may have noticed, the previously mandatory-seeming rating screen, for riders rating drivers, is now optional and pushed to the bottom of the screen when you open the app for your next ride.
As Gizmodo notes, the "seamless," no-cash, non-tipping structure of Uber was an early selling point of the service, and through last year the company continued to insist, "Tipping is not included, nor is it expected or required. In fact riders tell us that one of the things they like most about Uber is that it’s hassle-free. And that’s how we intend to keep it."
But clearly the pressure to improve the driver experience has grown more intense as the company has faced a steady six months of terrible press, and today's changes are only the beginning according to Head of US Operations Rachel Holt, and Head of Driver Experience Aaron Schildkrout. "Look out for the next round of improvements in July," they write. "We know there's a long road ahead, but we won't stop until we get there."
The Independent Drivers Guild, an ridehail-drivers' group affiliated with the Machinists Union in New York, issued a reaction statement saying, "Today’s tipping announcement is an important win for drivers and proves that thousands of drivers coming together with one voice can make big changes. Cuts to driver pay across the ride-hail industry have made tipping income more important than ever. We were proud to lead the way on this fight on behalf of drivers in New York City and across the nation."
The public reaction will likely be mixed, as it has been on Twitter, with consumers divided between wanting to pay drivers well and wanting the Uber model to remain the same. It was implied early on in the evolution of Uber that tips were "included" in the fares we paid, but UberX came along and rides became increasingly cheap, it became increasingly obvious that the company wasn't paying drivers a particularly high wage leading to a discussion over a year ago about whether riders ought to begin using cash tips, so long as the company refused to permit tipping within the app.
Some examples so far:
It's ridiculous -- obnoxious, really -- how long Uber held out against facilitating tips for its drivers https://t.co/DImpVlHCKD— Dave Jamieson (@jamieson) June 20, 2017
Uber will soon have tips and I couldn't be any happier 😂— Jesús (@BrunoFonseca001) June 20, 2017
@Uber u finally take tips ! Heck yea finally ! This is so exciting ! 👍🏻— Danielle Colontonio (@Rackorama) June 20, 2017
As CNBC noted over the weekend, Uber's ongoing relations with its drivers is one of a half dozen legal threats the company faces as it moves forward with the question of whether the company can legally continue to classify drivers as contractors, rather than employees, unsettled law, despite a legal victory for Uber in California last year.