Will Uber's new moves be enough to keep its drivers happy?

In the wake of two class-action lawsuits and protests, the ride-hailing company announced a series of software improvements aimed to improve drivers' experiences. 

Jeff Chiu/AP/File
An Uber driver sits in his car near the San Francisco International Airport in July 2015. Uber has rolled out several new software improvements meant to improve drivers' experiences.

Tensions have been building between Uber and its drivers, especially as the ride-hailing company decreased drivers’ earnings and continued to classify them as independent contractors, rather than recognizing them as employees. Drivers protested and filed two class-action lawsuits against the company.

On Monday, Uber seemed to be making efforts to quell driver complaints, announcing a series of software improvements intended to improve drivers’ experiences.

“[We] have heard from drivers like you that there are plenty of things we can do to make driving more empowering and worth your while,” wrote Uber in a blog post. “Beginning today, we are rolling out a number of features and rewards in more cities to help you get the most out of your time on the road.”

“Many drivers say they choose Uber because they want to be their own boss, set their own schedule, and get work at the touch of a button,” it added. “That’s the beauty of the on-demand economy: you define the work you do, it doesn’t define you.”

Drivers can soon pick up only those passengers on the way to a drivers’ destination, pause the app if they need a break, and receive their earnings instantly, as well as receive pay if a passenger is more than two minutes late.  

The announcement signals a shift in the ever-evolving shared economy, as Uber has started to address the vulnerabilities its drivers say they are exposed to as independent contractors. The conditions experienced by Uber’s workforce – as well as those experienced by workers in other peer-to-peer services – have created a number of outstanding labor issues. Monday's announcement seems to be an effort on Uber's part to meet drivers halfway.

Chief among the new software improvements are drivers’ ability to both pick up only those passengers on their way to their own destinations and to pause the app. Although the driver destination feature has been piloted in a number of cities, drivers in a dozen more cities will be able to take advantage of it starting this week. Drivers will be able to use the feature twice a day, such as on their way to and from work.

“Driver destinations is all about making it easier to fit work around your life – not the other way around,” writes Uber.

The second feature serves the same end.

“Need lunch or coffee or a breath of fresh air, or ready to call it a day? Now you’ll be able to just hit pause – literally – to stop new requests from coming in while you’re completing your last trip.”

Previously, drivers were forced to cancel user requests to be picked up. Now, drivers can simply pause the program and restart it once they’re ready. Uber will pilot this feature this month. These changes, as well as several others, seem to be Uber’s attempt to keep drivers happy.  

Two surveys of Uber drivers released this winter offered different views into drivers’ satisfaction. A survey Uber conducted in December found 81 percent of drivers were satisfied with their overall experiences, and more than 90 percent were both satisfied with the flexibility their schedule offered them and their work life-balance. But an independent, amateur survey by Harry Campbell, author of the blog The Rideshare Guy, found only 48 percent of drivers were satisfied.

And drivers have long battled their status as independent contractors, saying it leaves them vulnerable. Uber doesn’t have to pay its drivers’ insurance or Social Security, as well as other benefits such as workers' compensation or sick days. Nor do Uber employees have the right to form unions. 

The conflict came to a head in two class-action lawsuits Uber settled with drivers. The company has also approved a pseudo-union group that will provide some benefits to New York drivers.

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