Uber has a new definition for '5 stars'

A photo illustration shows the Uber app on a mobile telephone, as it is held up for a posed photograph, in London, Britain November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Uber began a campaign called “180 Days of Change” in June in which it promised to be, for the lack of a better word, nicer.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco–based company, now led by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, announced new features to placate drivers who have long complained about fairness issues in the Uber app.

The most important update to Uber’s system is new clarity for its ratings. Riders will be able to see simple and clear definitions for each of the ratings options of one to five stars.

Today, almost everything has a rating attached to it, a feature that allows companies to collect data and consumers to exercise real (or perceived) control. With its prior system, Uber found that one person’s definition of a five-star trip might not be the same as another person’s, which could potentially impact a driver’s livelihood. Going forward, a five-star trip has no issues, a 4-star trip is “OK but had one issue,” and so on.

Uber’s new ratings screen includes definitions. (Uber)

In addition, Uber is now requiring a reason for negative feedback. “When a driver gets a low rating, they deserve to know why,” said an Uber spokesperson in a statement.

And in an effort to ensure objectivity, Uber will now withhold passengers’ updated ratings until they themselves rate. The app will also offer expanded “ratings protection,” the feature Uber rolled out in September that makes sure drivers don’t get blamed for factors beyond their control, like traffic. Starting on Tuesday, more extenuating circumstances will be added, like riders who consistently give bad ratings or a faulty GPS route.

Building on changes, but skepticism from drivers

The company’s efforts to please its workforce during the “180 Days of Change” have also included tipping, long trip notifications, changes to Uber pool, long and late pickup charges and cancellation charges. But many drivers still aren’t satisfied with the pay breakdown.

“The ‘180 Days of Change’ is all optics,” a Southern California–based Uber driver told Yahoo Finance.

The driver, who asked to remain anonymous, has struggled to make ends meet by driving and lives in his car like other drivers that juggle car payments and lower-than-expected wages.

If a ride wasn’t good, you have to say why. (Uber)

Despite the goodwill effort, a path forward will be a challenge. Earlier this month, Uber and New York University released a study that showed the app’s model was so ingrained with supply and demand that no matter the fare rates, drivers take home about the same earnings over time. When fares are down, riders are plentiful and driver supply decreases. When fares go up, riders are scarcer but more drivers come to the platform.

The driver also noted that the tip option can be difficult to locate in the app and requires riders to rate drivers before they can tip, “which they very rarely do.” With the new features, riders can click “skip” if they do not wish to rate a ride.

“Roughly a third of riders never bother to rate drivers,” the driver said.

According to Uber, the “180 Days of Change” campaign will continue beyond that time period, which elapses on December 17.

However, making drivers happy may not be a long-term requirement. On Monday, Uber ordered up to 24,000 Volvo XC90s for its fleet of driverless cars. The non-exclusive deal is expected to be in effect through between 2019 to 2021.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann. Confidential tip line: FinanceTips[at]oath[.com].

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