Uber drivers set their own fares in parts of California

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Uber lets drivers in Southern California and Sacramento set their own rates, a feature it will soon bring to the Bay Area and statewide. This is part of the San Francisco carpool company’s attempts to show that drivers are independent and therefore should not be classified as employees under AB5, California’s new concert law. AB5 makes it more difficult for companies to claim that workers are independent contractors, the business model on which Uber relies.

Uber drivers in Los Angeles, Bakersfield, San Diego, Fresno and surrounding areas can now set travel fares as a multiplier of Uber’s existing time and distance rates. They can charge as little as half the standard rate and up to five times the standard rate. These choices come in 10% increments, so a driver could charge 30% above the normal price, for example. They can also stick to Uber’s default rates.

Uber has said it will extend the name scheme to your price to the San Francisco area in the coming weeks.

“I think it helps the case of Uber (that drivers have some independence), but it will be difficult for Uber to allow drivers to function fully as independent contractors,” said Harry Campbell, who runs the blog and podcast The RideShare guy. “The drivers would agree that Uber had too much control over these years.”

Giving drivers more control also affects the driver experience. Riders will be notified when paired with drivers who have adjusted the price to be higher, similar to the advice they receive on peak prices in times of high demand, said Uber.

“Uber started out as an incredible frictionless product: a tap, the driver is coming,” said Campbell. “Now you have to do a little bit of work to decide what price you want to pay. The trend is to add complexity and functionality. ”

Campbell and some drivers noted that they had no way to differentiate themselves.

“Drivers who offer better levels of service will want to charge more, but it’s hard for drivers to know that if (they get it right) ETA and the lowest price,” said Campbell. “I would like to see Uber add functionality to allow drivers to highlight their ratings or the exemplary service they provide.”

Campbell cited his own experience in requesting a ride after the name your price feature came into effect. On Tuesday, he called an Uber and was originally quoted a $ 13 fare, but no driver could be found for that price, so he was paired with a $ 24 ride, which he rejected, and again with another for $ 17, which he also rejected. . Eventually, he was paired with a driver who was farther away but willing to commute for $ 13.

Drivers say it takes trial and error to see what works – and of course they also face drastically reduced demand for passengers who take shelter at home and fear contagion during the pandemic coronavirus.

Currently in the early stages of functionality, “It seems like a lot of drivers overestimate what passengers are willing to pay for,” said Campbell. “Many of the drivers we talk to charge (two to three times the normal fare) and say, ‘I don’t get any trips. Customers are used to paying certain amounts and are very price sensitive. ”

He thinks that drivers who set more subtle increases, perhaps 20% higher, will be the most likely to benefit.

Uber started experimenting with drivers setting fares at small airports in Santa Barbara, Sacramento and Palm Springs in January. This month, he made other changes to reinforce his arguments that AB5 does not apply to him, such as letting drivers see driving destinations in advance, letting them refuse trips without penalty, and let the cyclists select the preferred drivers that would suit them on future trips.

Uber and rival Lyft are fighting driver reclassification on several fronts: in court, where California has sued them; with their state regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission; and via a November voting initiative, they pay tens of millions to promote. Proposition 22 asks voters to keep concert drivers and couriers as entrepreneurs, but to give them income floors and certain benefits.

Carolyn Said is a writer at the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @csaid

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