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Why Uber’s latest innovation has drivers concerned

Matthew Elmas /

Ride-share drivers have expressed concern about a decision by Uber to integrate public transport information into its service, claiming they were not consulted. 

Earlier this week, Uber gave the world a glimpse into its vision for the future with news it had inked a deal with Transport NSW to include public transport in its popular mobile application.

Sydneysiders can now see real-time bus, train, ferry and light rail information within the Uber app, enabling consumers to make more informed decisions about the most effective way to get from A to B.

It’s exactly the type of thing Uber wants to be a bigger part of its business — alongside plans to start flying people across cities, the multinational technology company wants to become the transport platform of the future.

“This new product is all about empowering riders to make the best journey choice,” Uber said in a statement circulated earlier this week.

But the announcement has raised eyebrows among some ride-share drivers, who are worried they’ll get less business as a result of the decision, at least in the short term.

Ride Share Drivers’ Association of Australia (RSDAA) president Rosalina Kariotakis says drivers she’s spoken to aren’t enthusiastic about the change. 

“The drivers I’ve spoken to have been concerned it could possibly drive down their hourly rates even further,” Kariotakis tells SmartCompany.

“It could promote shorter distance trips.”

Kariotakis claims the RSDAA were not consulted on the move before it was announced publicly, which worries them because Uber clearly wants to evolve its business model further in the coming years.

Asked whether it consulted with drivers before making its most recent platform change, an Uber spokesperson said drivers should benefit from innovations which make its platform more useful to riders.

“The more useful we make Uber to users, the more people will engage with the app and ultimately drivers should benefit from that. Importantly, the more we can help reduce congestion, the better the experience will be for driver-partners and riders using the Uber app alike,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

It’s not all negative. Kariotakis says its possible public transport data could improve conditions for some drivers, particularly those working from Sydney airport, where a train ride costs in excess of $15 per person.

It is hoped the availability of information about transport from the airport will help tourists in groups of three or four realise an Uber may be cheaper than a train ride.

But if Uber is moving towards a future where its services will integrate seamlessly with other transport options, it could mean an increase in short trips for drivers, which can impact pay packets significantly, depending on down-time between jobs.

Kariotakis, alongside other drivers SmartCompany has spoken to recently who asked to remain anonymous, have complained it’s becoming harder to make a living driving on Uber’s platform.

Kariotakis also says she’s hearing from a growing number of drivers working in non-peak periods in order to make ends meet, although SmartCompany has spoken to many drivers who also prefer non-peak time driving as a general rule.

The issue, they say, is there aren’t as many jobs coming through as there once was, which they judge as a result of more drivers being on the platform, and riders moving over to new competitors such as Ola and DiDi.

Uber drivers in Australia are considered contractors, not employees, which means they aren’t entitled to many of the same protections others are. But there are also many drivers, including Kariotakis, who wish to preserve the contractor model.

The issue, she says, is Uber drivers aren’t typical contractors either, in that they don’t control their own client lists, so there’s nothing in the current regulatory framework that can address their problems while preserving their interests. 

Ride-share competition is heating up in Australia. DiDi is expanding aggressively across the country and has been offering drivers substantial bonuses for switching over to its own platform.

SmartCompany has spoken to one driver who says DiDi’s driver bonuses have increased his weekly pay packet by more than $100, while Kariotakis says others are reporting making as much in bonuses as they are in fares.

And while there’s no guarantee it will last, Kariotakis says DiDi has, at least so far, been more willing to consult with drivers on possible changes to its platform.

“I’ve spoken with them personally, they’re open to more suggestions and they seem to be taking a bit more responsibility,” Kariotakis says.

“Drivers have been stating there has been a reduced rate in the number of trips, especially outside of peak periods,” Kariotakis says.

The proliferation of Uber competitors does create some tricky situations for drivers though. There’s an increasing incentive to work across multiple ride-sharing platforms, particularly when business is thin on one network.

But if users remain logged into the Uber app when completing a DiDi job, they can fall into a trap where they’re forced to decline Uber’s offer. Kariotakis says if drivers have refusal rates higher than 20% or so, they could receive less incoming jobs in the future.

That’s a difficult pill to swallow for some SmartCompany has spoken with recently, who say they like to use multiple platforms to cut down on idle time. 

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].