Uber to Drivers: Pick Up Cheaper Fares or Else

Until Friday, Uber in Dallas was essentially two different services. There was UberBlack — and its cousins UberSUV and UberSelect — the service that started everything for Uber. UberBlack began as a way to keep town car drivers who weren't busy, busy. Drivers between gigs could switch the app on and pick up fares during their downtime. Uber's other half was UberX, the ride-sharing service Uber added after Uber Black settled in. UberX allows anyone with a reasonably late model car, a city of Dallas transportation-for-hire permit and the Uber app to accept fares. UberX rates are far lower ($1 base fair plus $.10 a minute and $.85 a mile) than UberBlack ($7 base fare plus $.35 a minute and $3.45 a mile).

When an Uber user request a ride through the company's app, drivers in the area are pinged with the ride request. Drivers can accept it or turn it down, but multiple drivers I've talked to have said that they risk reprimand, suspension or termination by Uber if their acceptance rate dips below Uber's preferred threshold. Friday, Uber told UberBlack drivers through an email they would now be pinged with requests from riders who've requested cheaper UberX service. Uber told the drivers that their revenue would go up, because they would be able to accept more rides.

"Drivers make more money by completing more trips. With UberX demand skyrocketing, we launched a new program that allows drivers to receive more trip requests from riders at multiple price points," Uber said in a written statement Friday.

Drivers don't see it that way and held demonstrations Friday and Saturday. Friday, a parade of black SUVs and sedans streamed into downtown and headed toward Uber's West End offices. Protesting drivers threw Uber's assertion that they were partners rather than employees back at the company. Drivers on UberPeople, an anonymous forum for Uber providers, complain that they've paid a premium for vehicles — think town cars or luxury SUVs — that qualify to provide UberBlack service. The new "oppurtunity" provided by Uber will force them to accept cheap UberX fares at the expense of their typical more expensive fares, the drivers say, so the protesters are turning their apps off until Uber stops sending them the cheap fare requests.

Over the weekend, there have definitely been fewer drivers on the road. Opening the app and trying to request an UberBlack ride downtown over the weekend showed surge prices — an Uber surge multiplies fares in a given geographic area short on drivers to attract drivers to that area — as high as 5.5 times the normal rate, but that could've had to do with the bevy of Garth Brooks fans infecting Victory Park during the country star's seven-show stand at the American Airlines Center.

The protesting UberBlack drivers plan to be at the West End offices again Monday, they say they will not be turning on their apps in the mean time.   
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young