Question: What if Uber/Lyft stopped trying to control the information asymmetry and actually empowered their driver-partners to do the job on the driver’s terms?

This is not about increasing rate-cards, or adding increased incentives, other than potential job satisfaction. No, this is about just empowering drivers by giving them information. Let good drivers drive on their terms, and punish poor drivers. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, right?

Uber and Lyft decided to go the other way, They do not disclose much in the way information to the driver as a control mechanism. Often the algorithm and app seeks to obfuscate it. These two corporations, for all their ‘Be Your Own Boss’ rhetoric, and ‘Better Living Through Technology’ Silicon Valley mystique, are super paranoid and ultra-conservative about being truly liberating towards information. Your data is its property, be it rider or driver, and it keeps it under lock and key. Perhaps for future monetization, but certainly not to the benefit of its actual customers, be it the passenger or the drivers. Both are customers of the platform, in a sense.

I am here to toss out a radical premise (or perhaps, a personal FANTASY) that opening up some of the trivial, non-sensitive information to the drivers to help them offer better service, would do more than the disingenuous ‘180 Days of Change,’ and a swap of a super narcissist CEO for a freakishly overpaid CEO ever could have. It is simple:

OPEN. IT. UP.

By hiding so much, by omission or design, from their so-called Independent Contractors, their drivers, by designing the app to almost dictate behavior rather than enable safety on the road (multi-menu offline button, I’m looking at you…) Uber has created a toxic workplace. Many drivers feel that the platform, the algorithm, and ultimately UBER (and LYFT) is in a passive-aggressive, asymmetrical war with them - Both by algorithm design choice, and by information imbalance. The “us vs. them” mentality hearkens back to the labour vs. management days in early and mid 20th Century America. Which caused the birth of Unions to deal with the toxic mistreatment of people by company managers, owners, and Big Capital in general.

Here in 2021, the management is an ethereal, ever-changing, black box that actively silos the labour pool so nothing resembling unionization or ‘strike action’ can ever take place. The closest that ever came was Prop-22, and it was a bait and switch scam that put voting into the hands of a low-information electorate with an incentive to not really ‘raise rates’ or ‘empower drivers.’ But I digress.

Post-Covid19, or nearly post-Covid-19, Uber/Lyft seem to be suffering from a lack of drivers This is a different calculus than the ‘before times’ (i.e. 2019) where there was a super-saturated glut of drivers out there for Uber/Lyft to take advantage of; with an ever present line of onboarding would-be ants at each Green Light Hub. The Summer of 2021 might be an opportunity for UBER/LYFT to pilot an open information strategy, as the global economy revs up again.

OPEN. IT. UP.

Give the driver the pick-up distance on a well designed ping screen.
Compel the passenger to put a valid picture of themselves (and verify it occasionally) so that the driver has tangible information about who they are picking up.
Let the driver see how many trips the user has on the platform. How long they have been using the platform, even the % the user tips.
Give the driver the destination, approximate distance and approximate gross fare on the ping screen.
Let us see if the paranoia that Uber and Lyft’s strategists, corporate managers, and systems engineers have has any empirical merit. Do not punish or attempt to control the ‘strategy ants’ - drivers who will only take high rated passengers, or only drive certain types of trips. Let us see if the ‘super ants’ - who accept all pings - will take the ultra-shortie, long-wait, multi-stop, non-tipping passengers.

OPEN. IT. UP.

My aspirational guess is that the invisible hand of the market will self-regulate most of the ‘cold-sweat fantasies’ that Uber attempts to bake out via algorithm. If the algorithm rewarded rides, with no strings attached, to the drivers with high ratings, and punished the drivers with low ratings, with barren days of zero pings, the market and the data slowly would drive garbage drivers off the platform. They can take the riff-raff passengers with them. There would be no more shenanigans if drivers could refuse to pick them up. Even Taxi companies would be happy, as these high-maintenance passengers would be market-driven back to take taxi rides with their multiple stops, and no car seats for their children.

OPEN. IT. UP.

Give the drivers control-sliders, meaning unlimited RIDE FILTERS, that allow us to only drive in areas of their choosing, the direction of their choosing. It is not redlining if there are lots of drivers and super-ants willing to take anything. Let us test if this will happen. Stop penalizing ride cancellations, stop holding these metrics over the drivers and let them deliver the service on their own terms. Be transparent. Let the driver decide. If the driver does illegal things, then absolutely deactivate them, but give them the information of what they did wrong instead of putting the through a ‘Kafka-esque trial’ of silence and secrecy.

OPEN. IT. UP.

Give the drivers RATINGS FILTERS, a hard cap on how low of a passenger they decide to take from A to B. Educate the passengers that high ratings means a better experience on the platform, quicker pick-up times. Embrace the capitalism ethos! Good passengers get a better experience, instead of centrally controlled ‘equal outcomes,’ for the good and bad alike. This is at its worst, akin to old-Soviet or current North Korean style propaganda and control. As a driver, you know that is what UBER/LYFT are doing. It seems rather strange from a company born in a country that values open markets and choice.

OPEN. IT. UP.

Trying to control the production in areas they know little about. How did that work out for the GREAT LEAP FORWARD in the late 1950 and early 1960s? China tried to control its national food production from a central algorithm...er...set of Appointed Mandarins -- famine resulted. Uber hoarding information, and non-sensitive, non-private, non-proprietary information that would empower its drivers to do better work, is roughly analogous to overly centralized regimes that, over time, simply make their domain a poor place to exist -- certainly not one the stakeholders can thrive in.

OPEN. IT. UP.

This does not stop at the drivers. Empower your Level 1 Driver Support Agents, most are located in the Philippines, to actually fix problems. Or at the very least timely route calls to Level 2 Driver Support Agents in North America, that might have a better contextual understanding of what it is like to drive in Canada or the USA (local agents in local markets). Stop forcing your Customer (and yes, the Driver is a customer of sorts to the platform) Support to brush off driver complaints for call-throughput with boiler-plate text. When this just exacerbates issues, and is insulting, mind-numbing, and passive aggressive to boot, some drivers are going to pass this bad behaviour along to the paying passengers. Happy workers = happy customers.

OPEN. IT. UP.

The more UBER or LYFT tightens its grip, the more the market will reject its premise. The more UBER or LYFT bullies its drivers, the more it sets the culture of ‘us vs. them,’ the longer the 96% annual attrition rate will continue. Can these companies afford this as they continue to bleed money? People treated poorly by their employer do not return to work, especially when government incentives are near parity with potential net wages. There is a solution, treat your driver-partners better:

OPEN. IT. UP.

You are not progressive, nor driver-focused, Lyft, if you exploit drivers with wage-theft nonsense like Priority Mode.
If you do not bend, Uber, you will break.