In a recent settlement, Uber agreed to pay $100 million in order to keep its workers classified as freelancers, but drivers got something else in the deal: the ability to solicit tips. Already, small signs have begun appearing in the cars-for-hire, leaving consumers disgruntled at the fact that the tip-free zone, a safe space free of Curb Your Enthusiasm social rules to worry about, had been shattered.
Consumers wishing to stay in the good graces of the app by receiving good feedback will have to tip—as they should since Uber drivers pay for the fare cuts, not the company. And yet while Uber has agreed to allow drivers to solicit tips, the Uber app still has no tipping option. So gratuities must come in the form of cash, which is ironic and sad considering the whole point of an app like this is avoiding the need to get out a wad of cash and break a $10 for a tip.
If a seamless user experience is desired–and we all know, it is greatly desired by consumers and businesses alike–this is a disaster.
So why won’t Uber add a tipping option in its app? Uber’s ride-share competitor Lyft already has a tipping screen within its app. And obviously, the tips come from Uber users, not the company, so this wouldn’t seem to cost Uber a dime.
According to the Boston Globe, however, Uber has no interest in allowing tips via its app, and the company has a bizarre and unexpected reason why: racism.
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An Uber spokesperson pointed to studies that show white restaurant servers get better tips, in general, than black waitstaff, due to unconscious biases. The company also mentioned other studies that show tips being decided by other psychological randomness, not based on merit.
Studies like these raise excellent points about how ridiculous tipping is, as a practice. Every month, more and more restaurants are going tipless as people realize paying a livable wage is a far better proposition for server and customer, and that no one really cares about being in control of the box below “sub-total.”
But citing racism for not adding a tip-screen, when the company has already acknowledged that gratuity is not included, is a transparent ploy to focus less on the drivers, and more on its endgame of user growth. Adding a tipping screen would undoubtedly increase tips—which users wouldn’t have an outward problem with—but it would creep into the consumer’s mind that an Uber trip isn’t quite so cheap as advertised, raising the barrier for consumers to use it. Furthermore, drivers who actively solicit tips could be seen as “aggressive” to riders, so the cash-tip status-quo has inherent potential to penalize drivers who try to use the newly-given leverage for fair pay.
Of course, the elegant solution to all of this is hidden in plain sight—after all, it was part of Uber’s initial attraction. Just offer one, fair and simple price. Just like many restaurants that have banned tipping, paying the drivers a wage with gratuity included would solve the problem and make the model more sustainable. But unless the company’s focus on aggressive growth and culture-changing engame changes, it’s not going to happen.