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Uber’s public Q&A with drivers was a disaster

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A lesson in what not to do

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales/The Verge

Ride-hailing giant Uber today trotted out Jeff Jones, its ride-sharing president, in a public Facebook Q&A to try and address driver complaints. Given Uber’s reputation of late and its complicated and messy history with drivers, the session did not go over all that smoothly. In total, Jones answered only 12 questions on his public Facebook post. Two of those questions came from people wondering whether the session was live, while another involved Jones replying with “hey” to someone who simply wrote “hello.”

After realizing that 30 minutes of his free time may not be enough to try and address perhaps the company’s biggest and most sensitive vulnerability, Jones switched to addressing broad topics with links to Uber’s website. Those topics ranged from support and earnings statements to driver ratings and rider behavior. This did not appease many of the participants in the Q&A, who began flooding Jones’ comments with complaints, angry messages, and stories of their own negative experiences with Uber’s platform. For Jones, this is probably uncharted territory. The former Target executive is used to more in-person community engagement, and he has in fact been holding small, roundtable events with drivers that have been noticeably less public than this.

Of the questions he did respond to, Jones gave a range of answers that spanned from trite to substantive. On the topic of Uber drivers’ earning potentials outside of metropolitan areas, Jones simply said, “Investing in ways to get more riders to use Uber is the first step!” Yet when one driver bluntly wrote, “We need to get paid more and treated like humans,” Jones had a little more to say:

We are fixing the way we communicate with you and provide support to you — these are 100 percent about treating drivers with respect and as people. There is a lot that goes into earnings... things like earning on your way home with driver destinations or back-to-back trips or paid wait times beyond two minutes. Also, ensuring Uber is the first choice with riders. I am making sure that the Uber team knows drivers are our customers... our job is to make driving with Uber feel rewarding and worth your time.

After about 30 minutes, Jones bowed out. The Q&A has since amassed nearly 500 total comments, with many drivers clamoring for more two-way conversations with the company and for Jones to more directly answer questions instead of relying on corporate talking points. In response to his final message — in which Jones pledged to read all of the questions even if he could not answer every single one — drivers left incensed responses.

“Bottom line: Uber doesn't care about us, and neither does Jeff Jones. This was a poorly planned, poorly executed attempt at pacification,” one user wrote. “Once Jeff realized that drivers would actually hit him with hard questions, he turned tail and ran. They don't care about us, they never will. For now, if we get frustrated and quit, well there's always a new sucker to sign up. And let's not forget they hope to replace us all with self driving cars.”