In his two years driving for Uber, Scott Winbolt has seen some fairly ridiculous behavior from riders: open containers of alcohol, dirty feet on the dashboard, people trying to sneak four people in a backseat designed for three. You name it.
“I try to be as accommodating as possible,” says Winbolt, who owns a small business in San Diego while driving for Uber on the side. “My main concern is everyone’s safety. That’s got to be paramount.”
Up until now, Uber hasn’t been very clear about what behavior is frowned upon, and what behavior will get you banned from using the service. This vague set of corporate policies applied to both riders and drivers. Uber community guidelines posted online made reference to “professionalism and respect,” but it was not entirely clear what it would take for Uber to deactivate your account.
Uber is hoping to clear up much of that confusion by updating its community guidelines to include, for the first time, a list of specific actions that can get riders banned from the service. A lot is pretty self-explanatory: don’t trash your driver’s car, don’t assault or insult your driver, and definitely don’t try to have sex with your driver. “Uber has a no sex rule,” the new guidelines state. “That’s no sexual conduct with drivers or fellow riders, no matter what.”
“Most riders show drivers the respect they deserve,” Rachel Holt, head of Uber’s North American operations, writes in a blog post. “But some don’t—whether it’s leaving trash in the car, throwing up in the back seat after too much alcohol or asking a driver to break the speed limit so they can get to their appointment on time. This kind of poor behavior is not OK, which is why we will take action against passengers who are rude, abusive or violent.”
Uber's actions are overdue, and perhaps don't go far enough to curb incidents of drivers assaulting passengers, and vice versa. Just Google “Uber driver assault” and you’ll see a lot of disturbing headlines.
Most of the media is focused on drivers assaulting passengers. And Uber hasn’t done itself any favors by resisting calls from safety advocates to subject its drivers to fingerprinting and other screening measures. Uber believes these measures would slow down its on-boarding process for drivers. Even after a Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Uber driver went on a shooting rampage, killing six people, Uber still declined to require fingerprinting or face-to-face interactions with drivers before allowing them to begin accepting fares.
But now Uber is taking steps to better outline driver behavior, too. There are updated rules for drivers as well, such as no touching of the passengers and a prohibition against contacting passengers after a trip is over. Drivers must maintain a minimum rating, which averages to around 4.6 stars, to keep their account active. And they must avoid canceling too many rides or risk deactivation.
But there are also too many incidents of riders abusing drivers. A doctor in Miami was put on administrative leave after video emerged of her hitting, kicking, and screaming profanities at an Uber driver. Another driver in Southern California installed a camera in his car after feeling unsafe around some passengers. Naturally, the camera captured a drunk rider assaulting him.
Winbolt says the update is much needed. “It’s all about mutual respect,” he said. “I wish I could accommodate everyone all the time. But there has to be guidelines. As long as there’s a clear definition we both follow I think the system will work.”
Others are less certain that the updated guidelines will provide much clarity and therefore not deter disturbing behavior. “I think the rider policy has always been pretty clear in my mind since it's really only the egregious stuff that can get you kicked off the platform as a passenger,” said Harry Campbell, a former Uber driver who writes the popular blog The Rideshare Guy. “I don't think Uber's new guidelines do much to change that since you still aren't penalized as a rider for having low ratings and there's still not much transparency for drivers as to who's rating you what and how you can improve your ratings.”
What’s clear is that Uber is aware that it has a communication problem with its drivers. Many drivers are still feeling the effects of the fare cuts that went into effect almost a year ago. There have been protests, driver unionization efforts, and class action lawsuits. Meanwhile, Uber has rolled out a host of new features designed to make drivers’ lives easier, and even thought up a novel way for riders to compliment drivers. But the company still won’t include a tipping feature on the app, which most drivers would take over updated community guidelines any day of the week.
Back in the day, we had taxis and passengers — and no illusions of community. Taxis also had partitions between drivers and riders, and probably for good reason. But ride-sharing companies have ushered in an era of part-time drivers, fist-bumps, and an evolving dynamic in the car that Uber is still struggling to define. Let’s hope these updated guidelines help usher in an era of safer rides for everyone.