Tip your Uber driver

Tip your Uber driver. Don’t argue, just do it.

Uber doesn’t include any kind of gratuity in the cost of your ride. And it doesn’t just pay drivers more to make up for that. The company implied that it did by saying there was no need to tip, and by simply not including the option to tip. The narrative is predicated on a deliberate omission.

No one questioned it, partly because it tallied with the white-knight persona, the slaying of the evil cab companies and the victory of clever technology over a dinosaur of the 20th century. Tipping was an anachronism, only necessary because of how poorly cabbies were paid. So in the new Uber era: no tipping necessary.

Uber drivers make about $15-20 per hour on average, then have to pay for their own maintenance and gas after Uber takes its 20% cut. That’s not a bad wage, plus the flexible hours are nice, but it’s not great either, and it’s not like they’re going to get regular merit raises. But that’s all kind of beside the point.

Tips are an unfortunate relic of (among other things) the longstanding and ongoing underpayment of people in the service industry, but for now they’re also the reality. People working at jobs where their employers don’t provide adequate support — good wages, benefits, equity, expenses — often must rely on the unofficial and unreliable tip system to make ends meet.

Uber drivers fall under that category, since the service is no different from other car services where tipping is standard, but the company’s narrative and the app itself are designed to exclude them from the tip process in order to give the service the illusion of economy. It’s shameful, really.

How much to tip, how it would work with ratings, the etiquette involved, these are secondary issues — and ones already being worked out by services that allow tips, like Lyft. First you have to acknowledge that if you can afford to take an Uber, you can afford to tip your driver, and that you really should. Just like you can afford to tip if you can buy a $5 coffee, or a $20 lunch. (Personally, I believe it’s part of the social contract in which we all take part, but that’s a broader discussion for another time.)

I know it’s not easy, because part of the reason you use the app is so you don’t have to carry cash, and because tipping is old hat. Blame Uber for not including the option and for telling you there’s “no need to tip.” Well, of course there’s no need. There’s no need to tip anyone. You’re just a dick if you don’t, since, until employers stop treating their workers as adversaries and obfuscating the actual cost of a product or service, you’re on the hook to make up the difference.

Don’t like it? Me neither. But don’t take it out on the driver, or the barista, or the waiter, or the cook, or the cleaner, or the mover, by not tipping. If you really want to broadcast your disappointment with the situation, support businesses that are doing right by their employees, and decline to support businesses that aren’t. (I don’t use Uber, myself, and maybe you shouldn’t either. There are plenty of options to choose from.)

One of the unfortunate dark sides of the gig/1099 economy is this: if the price seems too good to be true, the company isn’t paying for it — the worker is. Who better to subsidize the price than the people who have no choice in the matter, since the alternative is often no job at all? It’s exploitative, and you should be suspicious of every business model that drags its workers with it on a race to the bottom.

Exceptions are conspicuous (and meritorious): companies like Honor and Rinse make waves just with the uncontroversial action of making their employees W-2s. It behooves companies claiming to be progressive to enact progressive policies.

Cutting out middlemen, fighting entrenched legislation and established players, leveraging instant connectivity, these are all great things. I congratulate Uber on its conquest. I don’t think it’s evil, but it sure isn’t on the side of the angels, either. Tech is supposed to be a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Until that happens, tip your Uber driver.