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TIPPING POINT

Get ready for your Uber driver to start asking you for cash

Alison Griswold
By Alison Griswold

Reporter

Uber is famous for telling users there’s no need to tip.

“You don’t need cash when you ride with Uber,” the company explains on its website. ”Once you arrive at your destination, your fare is automatically charged to your credit card on file—there’s no need to tip.”

The implication is that you don’t need to tip because your tip is built into the fare. But that’s actually not true. As part of an agreement Uber reached Thursday to settle class-action lawsuits in California and Massachusetts, the company is being forced to make two big clarifications on its tipping policies.

First, Uber will have to clearly state that, contrary to what riders might believe, tips are not included. Second, it has agreed that “its policies do not prohibit a driver from putting up signs or requesting a tip.” The settlement is pending approval by a federal judge.

Uber says it has no plans to integrate tipping into its app the way Lyft currently does. At the end of a Lyft ride users are prompted to rate their driver and leave an optional tip. So get ready for your Uber driver to start asking for cash.

“When riders have the correct information, we expect they will be generous and appreciative of good service and many will tip their drivers,” Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lawyer representing drivers in the class actions, wrote in a statement on Thursday.

This is nice in theory, and certainly, it would be good practice to tip your Uber driver. For all that Uber has touted how much its drivers earn, out-of-pocket expenses like gas and vehicle maintenance that drivers must bear as independent contractors can quickly take a chunk out of those earnings.

In practice, though, the new tipping policies seem bound to make things awkward. Uber was born as “Everyone’s Private Driver”—a convenient, frictionless ride at the touch of a button. It’s since rebranded to be more democratic, introducing cheap services like UberPool and hyping ”transportation as reliable as running water.” But the focus on giving users a seamless experience has remained.

Lots of drivers suddenly asking their riders for cash tips could mess with that. Imagine the exchange: You request an Uber. You get into the car. You probably haven’t heard much about this class-action settlement, and don’t know that drivers are now explicitly allowed to ask for tips. You probably don’t carry cash. So when your Uber driver asks whether you’d leave a few extra bucks, you might feel … confused? Annoyed? Uncomfortable?

Maybe you’ll leave that driver a bad rating. The class-action settlement filings actually cautions that this could happen, leading to particularly poorly rated drivers being kicked off the platform. Maybe your driver will leave you a bad rating. Bad ratings for everyone!

Of course, Uber probably isn’t going to deactivate riders. And considering the added hassle of leaving cash tips on an app-based ride service, it also seems unlikely that doing so will become the norm.