Uber tweaks its app in bid to appease drivers

Facing a high-profile labor lawsuit and backlash from drivers complaining about lower wages, Uber Technologies Inc. is changing parts of its ride-hailing app to appease those behind the wheel. 

Features announced Monday will allow drivers to turn down passengers who aren’t heading in the same direction, stop requests from coming in when they’re on their last ride, and earn money when customers take more than two minutes to hop in. Uber plans to expand that policy to a dozen cities nationwide this month. 

The company will also begin offering drivers discounts if they need an Uber ride and allow customers nationwide to pay with Uber Instant Pay – allowing drivers to receive compensation immediately through a GoBank Uber Debit Card.

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Many of Uber’s changes, like the waiting fee and the ability to filter fares depending on their direction, are already provided by competitors such as Lyft. Analysts say the move could help Uber lure or retain drivers.

“The whole ride sharing marketplace is getting very competitive,” said Matt DoLorenzo, a Kelly Blue Book analyst. “Among drivers they seem to like the terms of Lyft better than Uber. It’s a defensive move from Uber to get their drivers happy.”

Uber, which has an estimated value of $62.5 billion, has faced scrutiny from drivers since it announced rate cuts in more than 100 U.S. cities in January. The company said it did so because of a decrease in demand during the winter months -- but rates haven’t returned to previous levels, and drivers haven’t stopped complaining. 

Meanwhile, the company has proposed a $100-million settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed by drivers in California and Massachusetts who sought to be classified as employees rather than contractors. The settlement is still awaiting approval by a judge, but could allow Uber drivers to begin soliciting tips – a practice that Lyft already allows.

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Augie Ray, a research director covering customer experience for Gartner Inc., said the changes to Uber’s app show how the company is engaged in a balancing act.

“It’s going to be a constant struggle for Uber to stay as competitive as possible while still allowing drivers to make enough money to get the kind of features they want. What you’ll see the next few years is Uber trying to keep drivers as happy as possible while paying them the least the drivers are willing to accept.”

Uber declined to comment on the record for this story.

alex.schiffer@latimes.com

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