One of the first times I used Uber was to get to the company’s downtown Seattle office. This was back in 2014, still relatively early in the company’s rise. We were in conversations about having then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick speak at one of our events. We used the ride-hailing service so we could talk about the experience with the Uber reps, who were visiting from the company’s San Francisco headquarters.
After we arrived, I told them that I couldn’t figure out how to tip the driver in the app. Actually, they explained, there was no tipping on Uber.
Really? It’s OK not to tip? I remember it making me a little uneasy, but hey, if everyone was OK with it — including the drivers, apparently? — I could be, too.
Since then, for the past few years, I’ve increasingly used Uber to get around town during the week, especially when I have interviews and meetings in places where it will be difficult or costly to park. Often I’ll ride my bike or drive my car to the office, then use Uber to get to my destination from there.
The idea of not tipping was a nice perk. But every time I got out of the car, there was some guilt in the back of my mind, nagging me about not tipping, especially in recent months when I started to notice more drivers with signs in their cars encouraging tipping. I did give cash tips in special situations, such as long rides to the airport, where the driver was helping with bags, or the time when I left my phone in an Uber and the amazingly helpful driver brought it back.
But often, even if I had wanted to tip, I didn’t have the right cash on hand to do it.
That all changed a few weeks ago, when Uber started rolling out in-app tipping in Seattle and other initial markets. It’s a concession to drivers, part of a broader set of recent reforms at the company. Enabling in-app tipping also brings the company on par with its chief rival Lyft in that regard.
After launching the pilot in Seattle, Minneapolis, and Houston, Uber has been expanding the feature to additional cities over the past few weeks, and all U.S. drivers and passengers are expect to be able to use the feature by the end of this month.
I started tipping in the Uber app on the day it rolled out — or at least I tried to. My initial attempt was thwarted by the fact that my driver hadn’t enabled in-app tipping on his end, which seemed like an odd requirement.
On my next few trips, for some reason I didn’t get any home screen notifications about my rides, and had to dig through the app to figure out where to tip as part of the driver rating and feedback section.
Since then, they seem to have worked out the kinks. On my recent trips, I’ve been getting the customary home screen notifications immediately upon exiting, allowing me to go directly to the rating section as in the past, with the new option to add a tip as part of the process.
The psychology of the tipping feature is interesting: In my experience, no matter the length or cost of the trip, Uber gives three default options: $1, $2 or $6. Riders can also enter a custom amount, but of course the default suggestions have a huge impact on user behavior.
I have a hunch I’ll end up defaulting to the $2 option on basic trips across town. On a recent trip to the airport, when the driver eagerly helped with the bags, I gave a custom $8 tip on a $38.20 ride.
Here’s how the tips appear in the Trip Details section of the Uber app afterward.
One slightly annoying aspect of the feature, for record-keeping and expense purposes, is that the tip appears as a separate transaction on your credit card or bank statement. And the tip isn’t included in the totals as you scroll through the “Your Trips” section of the Uber app.
Bottom line, it seems Uber still has some work to do to unify the billing and streamline the experience. But overall, the new Uber tipping feature works relatively smoothly, and I’m glad it’s there.
Yes, it’s an extra expense, but it’s a small premium to pay for a guilt-free ride.