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New York City may force Uber to add tipping option in app

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A new proposal would require the company to allow credit card-based tips

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales/The Verge

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission announced a proposal today that could force Uber to finally allow riders to tip drivers within its app. The full proposal will be introduced in a few months and would require “car services that only accept credit cards” to let passengers tip with their cards in the app, according to The New York Times.

“We have not seen the proposal and look forward to reviewing it,” an Uber spokesperson told The Verge. “Uber is always striving to offer the best earning opportunity for drivers and we are constantly working to improve the driver experience.”

Cash tips have long been a part of a New York City cab ride, and Uber hasn’t explicitly stopped riders from tipping its drivers in cash. But the touchscreen interfaces of New York City taxis allow riders to tip a driver even when paying with a credit card. Uber’s app, meanwhile, has never had a similar option for including credit card-based tips.

In contrast, Lyft started offering in-app tipping in 2012, and the company says its drivers have pulled in $200 million in tips since then. "We've always known that offering in-app tipping is the right thing to do, which is why we've offered it since our earliest days,” a Lyft spokesperson told The Verge.

Uber at one time even discouraged its drivers from soliciting for tips, until last year when the company settled class action lawsuits in order to keep classifying its drivers as independent contractors. Following those settlements, Uber softened its stance on tipping a bit, saying “drivers are free to accept” them in a post on Medium. But the company also used that post to explain that it hasn’t added an in-app tipping option because it’s afraid of enabling personal biases in both its drivers and riders.

That would all change if the TLC’s proposal becomes a hard rule in New York City. If that happens, it could also affect the company’s approach to tipping around the country. When Uber reached an agreement with the New York State Attorney General’s office about limiting surge pricing during emergencies in 2014, that local decision became the company policy on a national level.