Petition to add tipping feature to Uber app gains thousands of signatures

By Michael Carney , written on February 9, 2015

From The News Desk

Uber’s various constituencies of drivers and passengers have a history of assembling to deliver a message to the increasingly powerful company. We’ve seen this in the form of driver protests against shrinking per-mile fares and other perceived labor injustices. And we’ve seen similar organization among global consumers, such as a petition that garnered more than 63,500 signatures in favor of more stringent background checks within company’s driver screening in India.

The latest community uprising comes in the form of a petition to add tipping functionality to the Uber app. Washington, DC Uber driver Peter Faris is the mastermind behind this latest campaign, but the petition signers include both fellow drivers and riders. Faris, who directs his message to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, writes:

Mr. Kalanick,

We the undersigned humbly request Uber add a tipping feature to its app. We appreciate the convenience, freedom, and choice Uber brings to our lives, and we want to see the app become even better.

Many Uber drivers report passengers have requested a tipping feature. Tipping is simply a gesture of appreciation for a job well done, and there's no reason to deny drivers and passengers this option. Your competitor, Lyft, includes this feature on all rides, while Uber only allows tipping with UberTAXI rides.

Considering many drivers rely on Uber as a primary income source, it makes sense to allow them to earn a little extra money when passengers feel they've done a good job. Tipping is customary in the transportation service sector. As many riders no longer carry cash, a tipping feature integrated into the app (perhaps offered as an option when the rider rates the driver) would benefit drivers by adding to their earnings and job satisfaction.

Thank you! In less than a week since the campaign went live, the petion has received some 11,600 signatures -- 96 percent of the way toward the states 12,000-signature goal.

Tipping is a familiar topic for Uber critics, including both both drivers and riders. The controversy stems, in part, from the fact that Uber previously advertised that tips of up to 20 percent were automatically added to its fares. In reality, fares are calculated solely based on the distance traveled and the duration of a trip, as well as any surcharges and any tolls. A federal judge ruled this was a sufficient misrepresentation to merit a deceptive marketing lawsuit.

Today, Uber’s website answers the question “Do I have to tip my Uber driver?,” stating:

Being Uber means there is no need to tip drivers with any of our services.

When using uberTAXI (requesting a ride from a cab via the Uber app, available in select cities), drivers will input the metered fare into the Uber driver application. In most cities—and all cities in the United States—a default 20% of the metered fare will be automatically added and paid to the driver as a gratuity. You can select the default percentage amount of the gratuity by signing into your account at then clicking the ‘Payment’ link at the top. An Uber spokesperson told Business Insider in October, "If a rider absolutely insists on providing an additional cash tip, drivers are of course free to accept it." Lyft, Uber's primary rival, lets riders tip within its app, a fact that many drivers claim is enough to make driving for the underdog provider a more profitable endeavor (at least in some markets). And, of course, it's common practice for riders to tip traditional taxis.

Uber has stated repeatedly its goal of replacing car-ownership, a big part of which involves making the Uber service as inexpensive as possible. This is a goal that seems in direct opposition to enabling tipping and which goes directly against the interests of drivers, making the company’s current anti-tipping policy entirely unsurprising.

Uber’s argument against tipping has mostly centered around convenience for its riders and the company’s stated desire to make the Uber-experience as seamless and frictionless as possible. It’s succeeded in that regard, so much so that many frequent riders have stories of accidentally exiting traditional taxis without paying out of force of habit.

That said, it also seems that it would be rather trivial to add a tipping option to the Uber app without introducing additional friction. For example, users are already prompted to rate their drivers after each ride – a critical piece of data that the company uses to monitor its levels of customer service. That same screen could easily feature a button offering the option to add a tip. Uber could make engaging with that button optional, unlike its driver-rating function, or it could prompt riders for tips only on 4- and 5-star rides. Put simply, there are plenty of options for elegantly addressing this issue. Uber has simply avoided doing so.

Uber elected to reply to the Indian background check petition, issuing what a spokesperson described as an “uncharacteristically humble, apologetic and gracious” response. At roughly one-fifth the number of respondents currently, it remains to be seen whether this latest petition will elicit similar attention from the company. By comparison, the federal government’s “We the People” petitions require 100,000 signatures in order to merit an official response from the White House.

If history holds, don’t expect much compromise from Uber on its anti-tipping stance. The company has shown remarkable consistency in placating its critics without much in the way of policy-changes. In the meantime, anyone wishing to show their Uber drivers a little love should plan ahead and be sure to carry a bit of cash – a decidedly un-Uber experience