Uber Tosses Its Drivers a Few Bones


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Facing growing pressure from labor unions and regulators across the U.S. and key overseas markets, Uber on Monday introduced a series of new apps and benefits for its core group of drivers. The goal is to make their working hours more productive and profitable.

"Many drivers say they choose Uber because they want to be their own boss, set their own schedule and get work done at the touch of a button," wrote product managers Maya Choksi and Ryan Fujiu in a post introducing the features. "That's the beauty of the on demand economy, you define the work you do, it doesn't define you.

Uber has heard the message from drivers that there are many things it can do to "make the job more empowering and worth your while," Choksi and Fujiu added.

Among the new apps are Driver Destinations, which lets drivers input their destinations twice a day to restrict ride requests to their current routes. Uber has been testing the app in a few cities and will roll it out to at least a dozen more this week and worldwide in the future.

Uber later this month will begin testing a pause feature that lets drivers turn off the app to take a break.

A new Instant Pay feature allows passengers to send money to drivers instantly using a GoBank Uber Debit Card. Uber piloted the feature in San Francisco, and it is now available nationwide.

Drivers needing assistance from the company have access to Uber Greenlight Locations, which now are available in 250 locations worldwide.

Uber announced special perks and incentives for drivers, as a recent study showed 25 percent of Uber drivers use the service as a passenger. The company is offering 15 percent off an UberX ride to drivers for every 10 trips, or 50 percent off an UberBlack ride for every 20 trips in a week.

Uber recently began piloting in-app phone support for drivers in the Bay area. In addition, it currently is testing a fuel finder to help drivers locate cheap gasoline.

The company also launched a blog, called "Behind the Wheel."

Uber has more than 1 million drivers, and it operates in more than 400 cities worldwide. Hundreds of its engineers, designers and product managers are dedicated to working on the drivers' app, the company said.

Uber likely will face additional pressure from drivers for better job security, pay and benefits as it expands to more cities and challenges taxis for the lion's share of airport and nightlife business. Smaller services, such as Lyft, allow drivers to accept tips, which puts additional pressure on Uber's costs.

"Uber realizes they're not the only game in town," said Kelley Blue Book Managing Editor Matt DeLorenzo.

"They might be the first, they might be the biggest -- but they're not the only one," he told the E-Commerce Times.

New York drivers last month won the right to organize as a guild affiliated with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The company currently faces litigation in several major states and a federal class action case in Illinois to classify the workers as employees rather than contractors.

"I think, generally, on-demand companies like Uber, Lyft or Postmates will not be able to avoid improving their driver/delivery person relations in the long run," said Gerrit Schneemann, senior analyst for mobile media and telecom at IHS.

"The competition for drivers is only increasing," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Perks will be a key differentiator."

While Uber has received the lion's share of recognition for launching the ride-sharing business, it will have to mature as a company to maintain that success, suggested Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"The company is fabulously valuable on paper, but hasn't turned a profit," he told the E-Commerce Times. "It claims its success is due to disruptive technologies and abilities, but treats reasonable complaints with thuggish disdain."

Austin, Texas, effectively banned ride sharing after months of political wrangling and a referendum, King noted, and since then a handful of alternative ride-sharing firms have appeared on the scene.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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