On December 5, 2015, I went on a 7-day cruise on the Norwegian Jade with my girlfriend. We flew from the Atlanta Airport (ATL) to Houston-Hobby Airport (HOU) that morning and killed a couple of hours at the airport before going to the Port of Houston Cruise Terminal in Pasedena, Texas.
In preparation for our trip, I investigated several ground transportation options. They included Norwegian Cruise Line’s Transfer Service, SuperShuttle, and traditional taxis. None of these options were very good ones because, quite frankly, they were relatively expensive. My girlfriend had used Uber once before and only had that one Uber experience. I heard about Uber from a number of online articles the last couple of years. I never quite understood what Uber was all about or how it really worked. And even when I installed and played with the Uber app on my Motorola Nexus 6 smartphone, I still didn’t quite understand how the Uber system really worked but I was intrigued. It was my first real opportunity to get first-hand experience with the Uber ride system.
I did broadly understand that the Uber app on the smartphone is used to estimate a route, initiate a Uber pickup, and make fare payments. Beyond that, I had no frame of reference beyond traditional ground transportation methods. But I was willing to give a try.
At the Houston-Hobby airport, I initiated a request for a Uber pickup specifying the Port of Houston Cruise Terminal as our destination. The Uber app indicated an available Uber driver was close by and my phone quickly rang. The Uber driver called to confirm my Uber request for a ride and he quickly arrived in a nice Toyota Camry.
The driver was Nigerian and his English was somewhat challenging to understand but he was courteous and respectful. I admitted to him that this was my first Uber ride experience and began asking him various questions of how it worked while he drove. I paid close attention to my phone because Uber provided a recommended driving route that appeared to be based on Google Map data. Overall, the driver followed the recommended route. During the drive, he began explaining how he got paid by Uber. He explained that Uber takes out their fee for each ride and that what the customer pays is not what he actually receives (which made sense). He explained that the Uber system doesn’t have the ability to accommodate tips and that the only way to leave a tip was through cash. That seemed strange to me that Uber would not include a tip feature in the Uber app. At the time, I didn’t know one way or another because I had never completed an Uber transaction and I took him at his word.
Because he was informative, friendly, took an efficient route, and his car was clean and comfortable, I planned on giving him a cash tip as I would with a traditional taxi ride. In my first Uber ride experience, I thought the Uber experience was superior to any taxi service I had ever taken because of the built-in GPS mapping, electronic payment, driver tracking, and his vehicle was much cleaner and comfortable than almost any taxi I have ridden in. I told him I would give him a 5-star rating as we arrived to the Port of Houston Cruise Terminal. He unloaded our luggage and left after I tipped him. We went into the cruise terminal and I put the Uber experience out of my mind.
One week later on December 12, 2015, we disembark the Norwegian Jade, get our luggage, go through Customs, and stood outside needing ground transportation to return to the airport. Again, the Norwegian Cruise Line Transfer service and traditional taxis were going to be relatively expensive options so we decided to use Uber again. I activated the Uber app, found that a Uber driver was once again close by, and activated a pickup request. The driver calls me to confirm the pickup.
This time, an older, bearded Caucasian driver with a new SUV pulls up. I was a bit confused by the SUV because I wanted the the basic UberX service (which is typically a car), not the higher-end UberSUV service. The driver explained that he was able to accept either UberX or UberSUV requests. Again, I took him at his word and we accepted him as our driver.
During the drive, I wasn’t quite as attentive because I was distracted admiring the interior of his new SUV. The driver also engaged us in conversation fairly quickly. I can’t remember everything he said but I just know there wasn’t a whole lot of silence after I got into the SUV. The driver did a lot of talking. To be fair, I still found Uber operational mechanics interesting and I asked about his experiences as a Uber driver. He seemed very upbeat and said he enjoyed being an Uber driver. He was retired, met lots of interesting people, and drove part-time when it was convenient or when he wanted to get out and keep busy. Again, I took him at his word and tried to enjoy the ride as he spoke about the people he had given rides to and how some riders were appreciative of some things he did for them that they gave him a big tip. (I picked up on that “subtle” hint.)
In the continuous conversation, he mentioned that recommended routes in the Uber app weren’t always the best because it didn’t reflect negative traffic conditions and that detours were sometimes necessary. On the surface, it made sense but I also commented that weekend traffic shouldn’t be that bad. We were returning to the airport at approximately the same time we were arriving the the cruise terminal the week before.
During the 30-minute ride, I noticed many oil refineries off the highway that we did not see before. In fact, we were traveling on major highways that we hadn’t seen before in the prior week’s ride to the cruise terminal. I didn’t think much of it because I thought that the distance of this alternate route this driver was traveling wouldn’t be too much longer than the prior ride. I expected a similar fare upon arrival at the Houston-Hobby Airport.
When we arrived at the airport, I noticed that fare was actually much higher and far exceeded the Uber fare estimate I had seen earlier. I found that peculiar. Nevertheless, the driver was friendly and the SUV was clean and comfortable, and I tipped him a bit more than the first Uber driver the week before. He said he would be giving me a 5-star rating. That also seemed peculiar to me because I didn’t know that riders (customers) were being rated also!
As we entered the airport terminal, we found a bench to sit down to assess what we were going to do next. It would be another 5-hours until our return flight home and we decided we would not rent a car to tour Houston. We were tired and decided to remain at the airport.
Once I sat down, I began to think, process, and compare the two Uber ride experiences. They both seemed to be positive experiences. The two Uber drivers were courteous, respectful, safe drivers, and had clean, comfortable vehicles. And yet, I had a weird unsettled feeling each time despite the fact that each Uber ride costed less than what a traditional taxi would have charged. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I felt unsettled.
In the first Uber ride from the airport to the cruise terminal, I felt slightly unsettled because I wasn’t able to give full positive feedback to the driver as I wanted to in my hurry to get rid of our luggage at the cruise terminal. I also felt I slightly over-tipped the first driver.
However, it was the second Uber ride that really left me unsettled. The fare was substantially more than the Uber fare estimator had shown when we were at the cruise terminal. Also, the second Uber fare was substantially higher than our first Uber fare despite the fact there were no airport-related fees. Something didn’t add up and I sat on the airport bench with both my Android smartphone and PC laptop on trying to figure out what happened.
Immediately below is the screenshot of my first Uber ride from the Houston-Hobby Airport to the cruise terminal. The total of $33.50 isn’t shown because that amount has since been reduced by Uber due to my complaints (which I will explain later).
Immediately below is the screenshot from the second Uber ride returning one week later from the cruise terminal to Houston-Hobby Airport. The total of $39.25 isn’t shown because that amount has since been reduced by Uber due to my complaints (which I will explain later).
If you compare the two Uber screenshots, you will see some interesting differences.
- The first Uber ride originating from the airport had a 2% sales tax and an airport surcharge totaling $1.88. The second Uber ride had no such charges as our destination.
- The route driven by the first Uber driver had a calculated distance of 21.24 miles. The route driven the second Uber ride had a calculated distance of 28.6 miles, a difference of over seven miles.
- If you look at each route shown on each map, you will see dramatically different routes taken. The first driver took a more efficient route using smaller roads. The second driver took an indirect, “scenic” route using major highways which added eight extra miles to the trip. In effect, he boosted his fare by 34% by taking an inefficient route.
As you might expect, I became quite unhappy with the second Uber driver that he ripped us off by adding 34% to his fare and he also managed to coax me into giving him a bigger tip than the first Uber driver in the process!
I emailed a complaint to Uber about the inefficient route which padded the distance by 34%. Surprisingly, a Uber representative responded quickly via email and acknowledged that the route the driver took was not efficient and reduced my fare accordingly. I was happy with that response and the quick fare reduction.
The next issue I was unhappy about is that I spent cash tipping a dishonest driver. Both drivers had “primed the pump” for cash tips during the trip. Each driver had different stories to tell but it became clear during the ride that they were sending strong hints they expected a tip which seemed a bit aggressive. In fact, the hints were much stronger than most taxi rides I have taken. So I decided to look up Uber’s tipping policy.
Do I need to tip my driver?
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.
Uber doesn’t explicitly forbid riders from giving tips or drivers from accepting tips. However, at the same time, they make it clear that Uber is intended as a cashless experience. The Uber app itself has no provision for adding a tip. In effect, if you don’t want to carry cash or pull cash out of your wallet, Uber is fine with it even if it means that drivers do not get any tip at all.
In Uber’s Help Section, there is a help topic regarding cash payments to a Uber driver.
I paid my driver cash
In most cities, you don’t need cash when you ride with Uber. When you arrive at your destination, the fare is automatically charged to the payment method that you selected in the app — there’s no need to tip.
If you paid your driver with cash on a non-cash trip in error, please share the details so we can help.
Again, Uber doesn’t explicitly forbid tipping to Uber drivers but Uber makes clear that Uber payments are automatically made through the app and “there’s no need to tip”. Further, Uber informs riders that if you pay your driver with cash “in error”, you should inform Uber so they can assist.
In my particular situation, I was not necessarily demanding tip money back simply because I was new to Uber but I definitely regretted tipping the second driver who was grossly dishonest. It was unclear to me what Uber could do to recover any cash paid directly to drivers. Nevertheless, I made complaints to Uber about the cash tips I paid to both drivers to satisfy my curiosity of how they would respond. I was pleasantly surprised. They reduced each fare for the amounts of the tips I had paid to each driver. With the second driver, there were now two fare adjustments.
Taking it a step further, I complained about giving 5-star ratings to each driver. I felt misled by both drivers but I especially felt cheated by the second driver and I requested a change in my rating for both drivers.
I gave my driver the wrong rating
Ratings help to ensure quality on the Uber system. If you left your rating in error, let us know and we’d be happy to correct it.
I wanted to change my feedback to a 4-star rating for the first driver and a 3-star rating for the second driver. Uber did promptly change my rating for both drivers as I requested.
I was greatly impressed with Uber’s responses by making adjustments to my account. They take care of riders by actively dealing with rider complaints.The issues I encountered seem to be fairly common complaints and they seem prepared to intervene on their customer’s behalf. There is no question that Uber won me over in using their service again.
As I reflect upon my two Uber ride experiences and doing extensive reading of the Uber website, what Uber cares about is getting its riders from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible without the inconvenience or discomfort of any cash transaction whether it be fares or tips. They want to make it easy for its riders to request a ride and to pay for a ride. And they have largely succeeded as long as Uber drivers do their part in contacting you upon request, picking you up, driving an efficient route, and deliver you to your destination safely and respectfully.
I “get” Uber now and I am onboard with them. What is uncertain is how to deal with Uber drivers. I am not yet a veteran user of Uber but I now have context and experience to draw from. I have come up with some personal rules and guidelines I intend to follow going forward dealing with Uber drivers.
- I will be polite and respectful as I would with any other professional doing their job. Uber drivers are able to rate Uber riders, for good reason. There are riders who can be sloppy, messy, drunk, rude assholes who eat, drink, vomit, or otherwise tarnish their vehicles. No rider should be allowed to do that to any Uber driver. That is plain disrespectful and outright abusive. Rider ratings give drivers a way to report on those riders who are simply bad customers of Uber.
- When I enter the vehicle, I intend to politely inform to the Uber driver that I intend to follow the route on my smartphone and expect that he will take an efficient route and deliver me safely to my destination. I will tell him that he will get a 5-star rating if he does this.
- I will also request that the Uber driver allow me a quiet ride without a bunch of conversation. The reason why I intend to make this request upfront is that I am going to nip in the bud any driver’s efforts to “prime the pump” for a tip through bogus conversations, story-telling, or any other persuasion tactics. If I want to tip the driver, I will do it at my discretion not because an Uber driver is going to “work me over” for a tip. At the end of the day, the driver’s job is to safely transport me to my destination, not become my friend or chatterbox during the ride. I no longer want any Uber drivers engaging me in pointless conversation beyond the context of transporting me to my destination safely and efficiently. I know it sounds a bit harsh but I like clarity, not ambiguity.
- I will come up with a polite reason for my request for a quiet ride such as “I am stressed right now and need some quiet time,” “I need to read or send emails or text messages”, “I need to mentally prepare for my meeting,” or “I want to concentrate on where we are going”.
- Depending on my mood, I may give a couple of dollars as a small tip but my concern is whether that actually helps or hurts the Uber transaction. Uber is focused on providing a convenient rider experience and a cashless experience and that sounds great to me. I don’t care to deal with obnoxious Uber drivers using heavy-handed persuasion tactics against me. But if I do fall into that tip trap to sidestep a confrontation, then I know I can complain directly to Uber to adjust the fare accordingly.
As I get more Uber experience, I may come back and update this post.
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