Why Your Uber Driver Is Purposely Taking A Longer Route

Aug 13, 2018

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Many Uber drivers complain of low pay and high operating costs. However, some drivers are fighting back, and it could affect your next ride.

Drivers are purposely making trips longer in order to earn more money, reports the the Wall Street Journal.

In a practice called “longhauling,” drivers are taking routes that require more miles, and usually more time, in order to increase their cut of a fare. Fortunately for riders, the only thing they are losing is their time, since Uber’s upfront fares lock in flat prices for riders before they step foot in the vehicle.

But if the fare is locked in, why are drivers taking longer routes? This is because Uber pays drivers a whole lot more on the distance driven versus the time of the ride, regardless of the price the rider is paying.

The WSJ provided an example of a ride in Los Angeles where if a driver were to go 33.5 miles for a ride they’d receive $47.75, or $35.81 after Uber took their 25% commission. But if the driver took a different route that added 10 miles (still traveling to the same destination) and six more minutes to the trip, they’d get paid $58.84, or $44.14 after Uber’s cut.

In Los Angeles, drivers get paid $1.06 per mile and just .17 cents a minute. So going a few extra miles could significantly increase a drivers cut just for a few extra minutes on the road. Uber’s fare structure for drivers is similar throughout the country.

Last week, ride-hailing company Lyft released a study that trips from New York JFK Airport take longer than any other airport in the US, and New York became the first major city to cap the number of ride-hailing cars and institute a minimum pay for drivers. The WSJ story mentioned drivers taking people from out of town on longer routes to bump their pay.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 21: Kevin Bonsignore and Danni Clay from Kansas City catch their UberX ride as UberX begins making passenger pickups at Los Angeles International Airport on January 21, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. UberX joins competing service Lyft as the only such services offering pickups at LAX. (Photo by Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Kevin Bonsignore and Danni Clay from Kansas City catch their UberX ride as UberX begins making passenger pickups at Los Angeles International Airport on January 21, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

However, the practice isn’t new, Harry Campbell, author of The Rideshare Guide tells TPG. He pointed us to his blog post in February 2017, “How to Beat Uber’s Upfront Pricing” detailing how drivers can make more money by taking the less efficient routes. 

While it’s well enough known, Uber estimates that less than 1% of rides engage in longhauling.

“This type of behavior—while unacceptable—is exceedingly rare,” an Uber spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. TPG reached out to Uber for this story but didn’t hear back by time of publication.

Campbell says most drivers are confused about how Uber calculates fares.

“Since Uber switched to upfront pricing, a majority of drivers don’t understand how pricing works since what the rider pays is no longer connected to what the driver receives,” said Campbell. “This is probably one of the number one complaints I hear from drivers, not to mention the large percentages Uber now takes on some fares where they over estimate the price to the rider.”

TPG found that Uber’s upfront pricing can sometimes be way off. Uber uses an algorithm to estimate what it thinks passengers are willing to pay — instead of a standard price for every rider.

Campbell himself sometimes engages in longhauling — but only if it makes sense for the passenger:

“I guess technically I engage in long hauling here and there but it’s only when the longer route will save my passenger time and I often confirm it with them ahead of time,” said Campbell.

Kurt Wagner, a former driver in San Francisco said he would only take a longer route if the passenger authorized it.

“It definitely makes a difference. Why should drivers end up with less while doing the hard work?” Wagner told the WSJ.

Although upfront pricing should keep the price the same for passengers, that’s not always the case:

“In testing for that article, we actually saw that if you go outside of one of the suggested Google Maps or Waze routes, then Uber does recalculate the fare for the passenger and will charge them more if you [the driver] go too far out of the way,” said Campbell.

Featured image courtesy of Uber.

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