Being an Uber driver gives you a lot of freedom as an independent contractor, but it also comes with a lot of headaches.
Taxes are extra complicated to report. And there’s no health insurance from the job, so you have to arrange that yourself.
Uber, though, is trying to position itself as a driver’s best friend by focusing first on their basic needs.
And yes, that includes potty breaks.
This week, Uber drivers will see a roll out of changes to their app, including a new gas finder feature. While the driver app normally shows the map of the city, including a honeycomb map of where prices are surging, the company is adding new gas icons that map out where drivers can stop to refuel.
Each icon shows a recent gas price, thanks to a few strategic partnerships, so drivers know if driving a couple extra blocks will result in better gas savings.
That’s just the start.
The company is also working on other projects that could address some basic needs of its drivers.
Inspired by a hackathon project codenamed “Poober”, Uber is exploring adding driver-friendly bathrooms to the map. This could then open the door to coffee shops and restaurants being added to the map. And all of these could be leveraged into partnerships, so Uber drivers get a discount in return for the company featuring the restaurant on the map.
It’s all part of a brewing war between ride-hailing companies as they fight over keeping drivers on the road.
The play for drivers
Uber and Lyft tap their supply from the same driver set. In many cities, drivers are starting to drive for both – answering rides based on whichever phone pings them first.
It’s turned even things like a driver’s app into a war over features and ease of use. The more a driver likes using the app, the more likely they are to continue to use it, reducing driver churn for Uber and making rides more reliable.
In October, Uber gave its driver partner app a face lift so drivers can quickly see how much they made after a ride or what feedback customers are giving them. (That feedback is anonymized and only given out in batches to drivers, so there’s no fear of a driver reading your complaint as soon as you get out of the car.)
Yet, Uber needs the app to do more if it wants to stay in the competition – and win drivers back onto its side. Its rival Lyft has introduced things like partnerships with Starbucks, Express Pay for drivers to be paid faster, and discounts at gas stations.
While Uber has struck up similar partnerships, they’ve mostly been buried in a driver’s email. This week, a new “driver rewards” section will also appear in the app so Uber’s partners can easily access the discounts.
Because Uber drivers are independent contractors, the company does have to be careful in how much information it gives them. For example, the health care section only links to Stride Health, which shows option for health plans. The company doesn’t (and can’t) mandate the drivers use it though.
A deal with AT&T and Verizon means drivers can get 20% off their data bill, even if it is a family plan. For Uber drivers who do more than 100 rides a month, Uber can also send them a fuel card to use and have it automatically deducted from their paycheck and include gas costs on their tax information.
Also coming soon will be the Instant Pay option to get paid whenever you want to cash out. For now, this sends money to a specific GoBank debit card, but in early May, Uber will add the option of having it sent directly to a driver’s debit card for a 50 cent fee.
Small changes like Fuel Finder make a difference when a driver is in unfamiliar territory, and Uber is betting that these changes will increase its own rating among drivers.