Disruption at the Disruptor: How Uber Drivers are Bending the Rules

The ridesharing service Uber is supposed to be a company that not only improves the way that people get around town but also the way that the people who drive them work. Allowed to ‘be their own bosses’, Uber recruits drivers based heavily on the idea that they will be freeing themselves from restrictive managers and strict schedules and finally getting to make a good living on their own.

That is not, of course, quite the way it works. There are plenty of rules and restrictions governing drivers and the fares they pick up, some of which many consider to be a thorn in their sides that limits their income making potential. And so, as a new report has just revealed, it seems many drivers, like any ‘normal’ employee have been finding creative ways to bypass these rules and get one over on the boss.

The study in question was conducted by two researchers from the University of Warwick in the UK and one from NYU. They interviewed Uber drivers from across both countries and also waded through reams of messages and posts on the ‘drivers only’ Uberpeople.net forum

From all of this information the researchers found two major ‘scams’ were particularly popular. One involved drivers in a given area arranging to all log off the app – and therefore off duty – at around the same time. This lack of cars then activates surge pricing, a function that is automatic and set by the app’s algorithm, at which point the drivers start logging back in again to cash in.

The second ‘scam’ involves the popular with passengers, but unpopular with drivers UberPOOL service. Agreeing to an UberPOOL fare nets drivers an increase in commission – from 10%-30% – but also involves driving multiple passengers to multiple destinations, a less appealing prospect. In order to score the increased commission without having to pick up more riders drivers will agree to an UberPOOL fare but then log out as soon as the first rider is in their car. They still get their 30% commission without the additional hassles.

So why are drivers failing to obey the rules? According to some it is because the drivers feel disenfranchised and actually miss having a boss. According to David A. Bressman, an injury lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, “It’s likely some drivers feel like they are working for a faceless system rather than an actual employer. They have little if any interaction with a human member of the Uber management team, have no real idea how jobs are allocated and often can only resort to email to solve problems. All of this results in a resentment that means they don’t feel too bad about ‘scamming’ them because they don’t have any sort of personal connection with the company.

For their part Uber has said the problems do exist but only on a very small scale and they are being addressed. However, this is just one of the problems the company faces, including complaints that drivers are not being paid enough. So, while it’s an interesting idea it seems that companies like Uber are far from the perfect alternative to standard employers. At least for now.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.