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Uber will start rewarding high-performing drivers with better earnings and free college tuition

Uber will start rewarding high-performing drivers with better earnings and free college tuition

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Part of a broader effort to improve relations with drivers (and discourage them from driving for Lyft)

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Uber drivers who maintain high ratings and low cancellation rates can earn rewards like increased take-home pay and free college tuition through Uber’s new rewards program, Uber Pro. It’s part of a broader effort by the ride-hailing company to improve relations with its drivers by helping them earn (and save) more money, but it could also have the effect of discouraging them from driving for other ride-hail apps.

Uber Pro divides drivers into four categories: partner, gold, platinum, and diamond. Drivers in the partner category need to maintain a 4.85 rating and a cancellation rate of 4 percent. To gain status, they must earn points on every trip during fixed three-month periods, and the points they earn in one period go toward unlocking status (and more rewards) in the next.

Uber Pro divides drivers into four categories: partner, gold, platinum, and diamond

The rewards include cash back on fuel purchases, discounts on vehicle maintenance, and free 24/7 roadside assistance. Drivers that achieve platinum and diamond status qualify for increases of 3 percent and 6 percent, respectively, on time and distance rates. This could translate to significantly higher earnings for some drivers. Drivers can also enjoy rewards such as faster airport pickups and free dent repair.

Platinum and diamond status drivers are also eligible for online classes at Arizona State University completely tuition-free. Drivers can take English-language courses, as well as entrepreneurship classes, as part of the deal with ASU. And if they don’t have time to attend or don’t want to, they can transfer the ASU reward to a family member.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Ali Wiezbowski, product lead at Uber. “Drivers won’t have to pay for tuition through our partnership. By using this, anyone can accelerate their path to where they want to go next.”

Uber Pro isn’t rolling out nationwide quite yet. Uber wants to test it out in various locations before deciding to scale the program. To start out, Uber Pro will be available for 100 percent of drivers in Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, and Phoenix. And it will be live for 50 percent of drivers in Denver, New Jersey, Orlando, and Tampa. To be sure, this is not just a program for professional drivers; Uber wants it to be something available to part-timers as well.

“Drivers won’t have to pay for tuition through our partnership.”

“This is not just a program aimed at drivers who are driving 40 or more hours a week,” Daniel Danker, head of driver product at Uber, told The Verge. “Over half the drivers that are going to be in Uber Pro gold, platinum, or diamond drive less than 30 hours a week. This is really about recognizing commitment and quality across drivers, whether they drive a whole bunch or less.”

Uber drivers are independent contractors who lack many of the benefits and protections of salaried employment. Uber argues this gives drivers the flexibility to work at their leisure and be their own boss, but some drivers feel as if they’re at the mercy of Uber’s algorithm.

Last year, in the midst of the many scandals and lawsuits that roiled the company, Uber launched its “180 days of change” effort aimed at improving driver conditions. Highlights included a new in-app tipping option for drivers, allowing drivers to message ridersadditional layers of feedback for bad ratings, and more money for out-of-the-way pickups.

And then in April 2018, the company rolled out a redesigned drivers app with input from actual drivers. The app was noticeably less cluttered with a better method of tracking overall earnings and workarounds that solve for connectivity issues. But it also allowed quicker access to “quests,” “badges,” and other gamified elements of the driver app that critics dismiss as psychological tricks meant to keep drivers on the road longer. Should we add “points” and “status” to that mix now?

Danker said Uber Pro was intended to reward drivers for quality service, not necessarily keep them driving longer hours or discourage them from using other apps.

“The motivation really is recognizing what drivers are doing on Uber,” he said. “It’s not so focused on what drivers are doing elsewhere, I’m really focused on recognizing what drivers are doing on Uber.”

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