Technology

Uber allows in-app tips for UK drivers

Uber t-shirt Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Uber drivers will receive 100% of tips offered by passengers via the app

Ride-sharing company Uber is to allow its drivers in the UK to receive tips from passengers via its app.

Uber said the feature - first introduced in the US in June - would launch in the UK on Tuesday.

The change follows criticism that Uber was making it unnecessarily difficult for its drivers to improve their earnings.

It was described as "a cynical PR move" by a union representing British Uber drivers.

Uber is also launching a series of changes intended to allow drivers to better control their work flow.

These include "paid waiting time" - in which passengers will pay 20p every minute after the first two minutes if they keep their driver waiting.

Paid waiting time will go live in the UK on 22 August.

Driver feedback

Uber said that feedback from drivers had prompted it to make the changes.

"Riders who want to reward great service will now have the option to tip their driver through the app after each trip," the company said.

"This means riders don't need to carry cash if they want to tip their driver."

A spokesman confirmed to the BBC that 100% of tips received via the app would go to drivers, without Uber taking a cut.

Rival service Lyft in the US has offered in-app tipping since 2012 and taxi-booking app myTaxi - available in Germany, Austria and elsewhere - can also process tips.

Other new features for Uber drivers include:

  • Two-minute cancellations - riders will have to pay a fee if they cancel after two minutes, instead of five minutes, from being allocated a car
  • "No thanks" button - drivers can instantly reject a trip request instead of having to wait 10-20 seconds
  • Driver destinations - drivers who want to go to a specific area will be matched with passengers seeking a similar route
  • Trip request control - drivers can choose not to receive less lucrative UberX trip requests

"This is a cynical PR move ahead of Uber's appeal next month against last year's employment tribunal ruling in favour of drivers," said James Farrar, Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) chair.

"Despite its claims, Uber remains completely deaf to the most serious issue facing - excessively long hours earning on average between £5 and £6 per hour."

A spokesman for Uber disputed the calculation on earnings, however.

"Last year UK drivers made an average of £15 an hour in fares after our service fee," he said.

The changes were welcomed by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE).

"These benefits both establish and protect the freedom, control and autonomy that makes self-employment so attractive," said Andrew Chamberlain, deputy director of policy.

Uber drivers have long called for better tipping options.

In April - shortly before Uber offered in-app tipping in the US - the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission announced plans to require all cab companies that take payment via credit card to offer a tipping option.

A petition on the issue was signed by 11,000 Uber drivers.


Image copyright Getty Images

Analysis: Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC technology correspondent

Executives at the ride-sharing firm like to talk about Uber 2.0 - an attempt to rebrand the company after a disastrous year that has seen the departure of its founder and allegations of a toxic culture.

Today's adjustments to the way the app works for drivers should be seen in light of that attempt to break with the past. Drivers at first seemed happy with the earnings offered by Uber and the flexibility of fixing their own hours.

But they have grown increasingly discontent, accusing the company of taking too high a commission and putting too many cars on the road.

Uber may actually be more focussed on last year's employment tribunal ruling in which judges described as "faintly ridiculous" its claim that drivers were a mosaic of small businesses operating without central control.

With an appeal against that ruling due next month, the firm may hope that moves to give drivers greater control will impress the tribunal.


'Sex crime' criticism

Separately, the Sunday Times has reported a Metropolitan Police officer has written to Uber, accusing it of failing to report sex attacks and other "serious crimes".

The newspaper said it had obtained a letter from Insp Neil Billany, head of the Met's taxi and private hire unit.

Insp Billany said he had "significant concern" over Uber's decision-making process and accused the company of reporting only less serious cases to avoid damaging its reputation.

The Sunday Times said at least six sexual assaults on passengers, two public order offences and an assault had gone unreported.

Uber's licence to operate in London is currently being reviewed.

Transport for London, which issues licences, said the situation was "totally unacceptable" and would affect its decision on the review.

In a response to the story on its blog, Uber described its view of its relationship with the Metropolitan Police.

"While we were surprised by this letter - as we don't feel it reflects the good working relationship we have with the police and the extensive support we provide - we would welcome further collaboration and to establish how we can do more to strengthen our existing processes," the firm said.

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