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Uber drivers have earned $50 million in tips in just over 50 days

In its third rollout of driver-friendly features, Uber is promoting job flexibility.

Uber sign in the front window of a car Spencer Platt / Getty

Uber is rolling out its third group of driver-friendly improvements, this time focused on flexibility. The company started introducing these new features in June with the addition of the long-sought-after tipping feature.

Since then, drivers have earned a total of $50 million in tips, according to Regional General Manager of U.S. & Canada Rachel Holt.

Compare that to Lyft, which recently announced its drivers cashed out $250 million in tips in about five years. Uber’s total doesn’t include the tips that the company matched as a promotion in the weeks after it launched the feature, and the company has rolled out tipping in places outside of the U.S. like Canada and the U.K.

Now, Uber is continuing its 180-day campaign to win back drivers with a series of in-app features that will help promote what the company believes makes driving for Uber most attractive: Flexibility.

The company has been through a slew of public scandals that have had a material impact on its business for the first time in its history. That started with the first #deleteUber campaign that resulted in 400,000 or so account deletions.

Then former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published her account of the sexism and sexual harassment she encountered at the company followed by months of the company’s internal turmoil publicly unraveling. Soon after, the company began ceding its marketshare to rival Lyft. Data shows that Uber, which once controlled 84 percent of the market in the U.S., now has 77 percent.

In places like the U.S., where Uber has achieved massive scale making it harder to find new pools of drivers to tap into, driver retention is critical. That’s especially true since riders typically flock to the platform where the drivers are.

Uber was initially focused on fixing driver earnings and ensuring they were getting more value for their time with additional benefits like paid wait times. Uber followed that up by overhauling the company’s often criticized and insufficient driver support system with quicker fare fixes and 24/7 on-call support.

Now, with its focus on flexibility, Uber is attempting to build on what drivers have told the company is the biggest appeal of driving. Drivers can now, for example, choose what specific types of trips they are willing to accept. This way, a driver can say he or she only wants to do UberPool and UberX rides or perform UberEats deliveries.

This is a gif of Uber’s app.
Uber’s new trip preferences feature.

“When we talked to drivers, the first thing that people said to us was please fix earnings, please fix support,” Uber’s head of driver experience Aaron Schildkrout told Recode. “When you asked drivers what do you really cherish about this experience over other work opportunities you could choose, that’s when flexibility arose as a primary concern.”

Uber is also rolling out features like long-trip notifications for which a driver will be told when a ride is longer than 45 minutes. Until today, a driver didn’t know how long a trip would take until after he or she accepted it. Uber now enables them to deny the ride.

“By giving a driver more information we actually help them make that decision [if they’re] in a position to accept a long trip,” Holt told Recode.

While riders may be concerned about being left without a ride as a result of this new feature, the company says it has found that ride completion rates have increased. In fact, it’s a better experience for the passenger, Schildkrout said.

“Riders want to feel their driver is not unhappy,” he said. “This is something I think about a lot, [and we’re working on] extra special features that we can launch that will be positive and mutually beneficial to both riders and drivers.”

There are also a number of improvements around its driver destination feature, which allows drivers to specify a location they want to reach. It allows drivers to accept rides that are going in that direction, especially when they want to finish working for the day and head home.

Previously, the company allowed drivers to do this only twice a day; now Uber is upping that to six. In addition, Uber is introducing a feature that lets drivers designate what time they want to reach that destination. So when it’s getting close to that arrival time, the app will only send the driver requests that ensures he or she gets to the destination promptly.

Together, these features enable someone who needs to get to another job, pick up their children or get to an appointment at a certain time to log some hours and earn some cash before that without worrying about being late.

These changes potentially opens up the opportunity to drive for Uber to new pools of drivers — or make it easier for existing drivers to stay online for longer.

For example, a parent who already drives for Uber can put in more time without worrying that they’ll be late to pick up their child.

“Obviously, having been at the company for a really long time, it’s really inspiring to see how the entire company has come together around the 180 days of change effort,” Holt said. “General managers are leading events in over 40 cities to share these changes directly with drivers. We’ve done this with the first two chapter launches as well. We get feedback on these launches directly from drivers.”

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