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Uber seeks to placate drivers with a host of new app features

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More control, more perks

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Being an Uber driver can be a pain in the ass. Just ask, well, any of them. They'll start out by saying, "Sure, I love the flexibility," but then pepper you with a long list of complaints. Some want to get paid more. Others want employee benefits and the right to unionize. Uber, in its ever-present quest to placate drivers without bending on too many of their demands, is rolling out a slew of new features designed to take some of the edge off of driving.

On the surface, many of these features are sure to make a lot of drivers happy: more control over their ride requests, fines for riders who make drivers wait too long, and even discounts on Uber rides. But the app updates are unlikely to stem the stream of class action lawsuits against Uber, especially after Uber said it would settle one lawsuit in California for $100 million. (A group representing taxi workers in New York City just filed one last week.)

Uber says the new features are more about trying to remove some of the pain points of driving on its platform, and less about responding to ongoing litigation. Many of the updates to the driver-facing app were piloted in various markets and are now being rolled out in more cities and in a broader fashion.

Starting today, Uber is expanding its "Destinations" feature that enables drivers to pick up and drop off riders along a specific route. Drivers heading in a specific direction can input their destination into the app, and Uber's algorithm will send them ride requests that appear along the way. Requests that would force them to deviate from their route would be filtered out. When Uber first announced that it would be testing this feature in San Francisco, we posted that it could be seen as the one feature that eventually turns everyone into an Uber driver.

Uber

Uber also will allow drivers to pause any incoming requests while they are currently in the middle of a fare, in case they need to go to the bathroom or fill up on gas before accepting the next passenger, or simply plan on signing off the platform and calling it a day. This will allow drivers to decline the next request without negatively affecting their rating.

Uber

Reports surfaced last April that Uber had begun allowing drivers in New York City, New Jersey, Phoenix, and Dallas to charge riders who made them wait longer than two minutes. Today, riders in a dozen other cities — and more on the way — will incur a fee if they take too long getting into the car. "In the cities where we’ve been testing this, we’ve seen that riders are more likely to be prompt," Uber says.

Uber

Uber is also offering more ways for drivers to better manage their finances. The company will be offering its branded debit cards (in partnership with GoBank) to drivers in more cities, which allow them to receive their earnings instantaneously. And the company says it currently has opened 250 "Greenlight" locations around the world, where drivers can get in-person support and questions answered, and plans on opening even more in the near future.

Lastly, the company says it will offer discounted rides to drivers who may occasionally want to sit in the backseat of an Uber car rather than the front. Drivers who complete 10 trips in a week will get 15-percent off their next uberX ride, or 50-percent off an UberBLACK ride for every 20 trips done in a week.

Uber is starting a new blog titled "Behind the Wheel" to showcase drivers' stories, as well as news about "products and perks." Of course, for those seeking a more unfiltered (and unflattering) view on Uber by its drivers, there are a variety of Facebook pages and message boards to visit.

Of course, all of these improvements for drivers could be seen as merely temporary, considering Uber is developing technology to enable self-driving cars. In other words, Uber wants its drivers to be as happy as possible before it makes them obsolete.


Ordering Ubers with an Amazon Echo