Mystery Solved: Are You Actually Supposed to Tip Your Rideshare Driver?

Breaking down the new etiquette for modern travelers.

Uber's been in the news a lot this year, making headlines for its apparent attempt to capitalize on a New York airport strike by taxi drivers (leading many to #DeleteUber); its alleged poor treatment of drivers, and its ahem, “always be hustlin’” corporate mentality. Still, sometimes you just need a ride — or, a lift, some might now be more inclined to say — which raises the perennial question when availing yourself of the labor of anyone working in the service-based industry: Should you tip?

According to the company's website, drivers may request tips at their discretion. "Tipping is voluntary," it says at the site. As a rider, you are not obligated to offer your driver a gratuity in cash." This, rather unenthusiastic, language is the result of two class-action lawsuits in which drivers accused the company of violating labor laws by discouraging tipping. In a lengthy Medium post last year, the company outlined a few, quite reasonable, explanations for why they are still not too keen on tipping, saying that it "is influenced by personal bias. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we tend to tip certain types of people better than others. This means two people providing the same level of service get paid different amounts." And: "Tipping could give drivers an incentive to spend more time where tips are likely to be highest  — typically the wealthiest neighborhoods."

Nevertheless, national etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas, Diane Gottman told us: "A rider can use their own discretion when tipping and most often will want to compensate their driver for efficient, friendly car service. Some people feel the driver may be penalized for accepting a cash tip. The reality is that most drivers will graciously accept a cash tip and look forward to your return visit."

The key, here, is the word cash. If you want to tip your driver, you will need to be carrying some with you as Uber currently does not allow you to add gratuities on its mobile app, through which riders currently pay using a credit card.

That may be changing soon. A few days ago the New York Times reported that the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission "are moving to require Uber to provide a tipping option in the app." If it goes ahead, chances are such legislation would spread to other cities.

The decision, says the NYT, was prompted by a petition from the Independent Drivers Guild, a group representing Uber drivers in New York. The petition, which collected more than 11,000 signatures, argued that drivers were losing thousands of dollars without an easy tipping option."

Lyft already has in-app tipping capabilities and even allows you to add one later if you, er, 'forgot' to tip at the time. Which kind of negates Uber's reason for (thus far) declining to add that feature — because, they claim, "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.” You might actually argue that Uber is causing unecessary hassle for riders who want to tip by not offering the in-app ability.

Given the widely reported poor conditions under which Uber drivers — and all people working in the 'gig economy' — labor, tipping your driver just seems like the decent thing to do — at least until everyone earns a reasonable wage. In a statement, Meera Joshi, NYC's taxi commissioner, described the moral imperative for tipping drivers by describing the city's proposed legislation as "just one piece of a more comprehensive effort to improve the economic well-being of drivers." But the New York Times also hints at another, rather more selfish, one: Maintaining a good passenger rating. “I’m obsessed with my Uber rating,” one passenger told the NYT. “It’s the only place in the world where you can find out exactly how well you’re liked.”

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