Some drivers are leveraging the lack of training into a short-term cottage industry.
Photo: Núcleo Editorial/Flickr
In San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and a handful of other cities, a company called 7x7 Executive hosts sessions for low-rated Uber drivers.
It promises "techniques designed to enhance customer service skills" and "detailed reviews of local neighborhoods and key routes," purporting to boost drivers' performances.
According to Uber's company protocol, drivers whose ratings fall below 4.6 are deactivated and must attend these sessions, where available, in order to reclaim their jobs. At a glance, the policy seems fair; underperforming drivers should take measures to improve. Yet two fundamental problems lurk: drivers must pay $40 to upwards of $65 out of pocket to attend them, and drivers are scarcely given any training in the first place, rendering the sessions mere reactionary Band-Aids.
Uber and Lyft aren't required to provide proprietary driver training given their drivers' legal status as independent contractors, and the fear of triggering regulatory bodies to view drivers as employees further prevents them from doing so.
"I probably spend two to four hours a week reading on the UberPeople.net forums and The Rideshare Guy blogs on Facebook."
Uber's training approach, consequently, consists primarily of a short series of videos, including 13- and 16-minute tutorials outlining how the driver-facing app and ratings systems work, as well as basic tips on communicating with passengers and earning a high rating. Uber competitor Lyft's training includes optional videos and articles and a brief tutorial and drive with a designated "Mentor."
As a result, some drivers are leveraging this lack of training into a short-term cottage industry.
Perhaps the best-known example is The Rideshare Guy, an informational blog for rideshare drivers. Operated by Harry Campbell, a former engineer and occasional Lyft and Uber driver, the blog generates revenue from affiliate marketing and a $97 online course covering such topics as capitalizing on surge pricing and maximizing tax writeoffs.
Campbell said 500 to 600 drivers have enrolled in the course within the last year. He noted that much of its curriculum derives from his experience as a driver and questions from other Uber drivers, many of whom feel the company lacks a cohesive system to address their varied concerns.
"Any driver who's reached out to Uber support will probably tell you they're very fast at responding, but they're sort of known for giving you canned responses," he said. "I think a lot of that stems from the fact that they do offshore customer support [for cost-cutting purposes], so it might be coming from India and the Philippines. You're asking them questions like, What should I do if a customer wants to bring five people into my car? A lot of the responses they give don't work in real life. They'll say cancel the trip. But if you just drove 10 or 15 minutes to pick someone up, that's all unpaid time."
Another driver, Simon Kwok, has established a similar business, Rideshare Dashboard. Kwok also developed an online training course for Uber and Lyft drivers, charging $50 to cover policy and protocol issues (e.g., medical coverage for drivers, handling drunk passengers, and getting paid with direct deposit) and $37 for tax-filing advice. He said about 1,200 drivers in total have enrolled in his courses.
"[When] you're hired as independent contractors," Kwok said, "it's not like there are other coworkers you can ask about how to do this, how to do that. [Uber and Lyft] purposefully kind of keep drivers separated from each other so they can't necessarily gather or organize or rebel." (Uber responded to a request for comment with the following statement: "There are a variety of resources for drivers that provide tips on different ways to maximize their time driving with Uber, including videos, online resources, and in-person assistance at more than 250 Greenlight Locations [vehicle inspection centers]." Lyft couldn't be reached for comment.)
Given the financial burdens drivers bear, Kwok says demand for paid courses has fallen. Depending on factors like city and times of day worked, Campbell said Uber and Lyft drivers earn roughly between $10 and $25 an hour, and with a litany of incurred expenses ranging from insurance to car maintenance to bottled water for passengers, there's little motivation or wherewithal to pay for additional training. Yet as resources like rideshare-driver forums, Facebook groups, podcasts, and blog posts from Campbell, Kwok, and their competitors arise, drivers are finding gratis alternatives. (Time drivers invest in research is unpaid. "I probably spend two to four hours a week reading on the UberPeople.net forums and The Rideshare Guy blogs on Facebook," said Scott Cable, an Uber driver in Erie, Pennsylvania. "Uber doesn't compensate me for this.")
Considering the vagaries of the rideshare economy and its founders' affinities for autonomous cars, neither Campbell nor Kwok foresees paid rideshare training as a long-term career option. Campbell intends to transition into covering "how rideshare begins to integrate with public transportation and on-demand self-driving cars," while Kwok explained that he "[doesn't] necessarily intend to try to make a living off drivers' lack of knowledge."
Still, the presence of third-party training is symptomatic of one of the rideshare economy's most troubling affronts to labor rights: as long as drivers cost companies as little as possible, their profit potential, in the eyes of investors, only continues to grow.