In an extensive study, researchers found that drivers are finding ways to trick the algorithms that Uber uses to control them. They cancel fairs they don’t want and avoid the unpopular UberPool, where drivers have to take multiple passengers who are heading in the same direction.
Drivers also organise mass ‘switch-offs’ so the lack of drivers in a certain area causes surge pricing.
The ride-hailing app, which operates in 570 cities worldwide and is valued at $68 billion, has been plagued by controversy about its questionable management practices.
The researchers interviewed drivers in New York and London, analysed 1 012 blogs on the Uberpeople.com platform and found a mass deactivation organised.
On the platform Driver A says, “Guys stay logged off until surge.”
Driver B says, “Uber will find out if people are manipulating the system.”
Driver A adds, “They already know cos it happens every week. Deactivation en masse coming soon. Watch this space.”
Drivers also either accept the first passenger on UberPool then log off, or just ignore requests, so they don’t have to make a detour to pick anybody else up. They then still pocket the 30 percent commission for UberPool, rather than the usual 10 percent.
The research has uncovered real tensions between drivers’ need for autonomy and a platform programmed to be always in control. Uber’s algorithmic management system may even be counterproductive as drivers try to break free of it.
Indeed, the researchers found most customers also operate alternative ride-hailing platforms such as Lyft, Juno, and Gett, using whoever provides a ride first.
Under constant surveillance through their phones and customer reviews, drivers’ behaviour is ranked automatically and any anomalies reported for further review, with automatic bans for not obeying orders or low grades.
Tension and resentment
Drivers receive different commission rates and bonus targets, but are left in the dark as to how they are calculated. Plus they believe they are not given rides when they near reaching a bonus.
The compensation for UberPool, which drivers have to agree to do or be banned, is even more complex. They are forced to accept different passengers on the same ride, even though it is not economically beneficial to do so.
The drivers have the feeling of working for a system rather than a company, and have little, if any interaction with an actual Uber employee.
This creates tension and resentment, especially when drivers can only email to resolve problems. Uber’s strategy is not at all transparent, drivers do not know how decisions are made or even how jobs are allocated which creates negative feelings towards the company.
“So they fight back and have found ways to use the system to their advantage.”
Warwick Business School, www.wbs.ac.uk