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How bad Uber ratings affect drivers' careers — and why you shouldn't be scared to report bad behavior

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Whether done as a full-time job to make a living or a part-time gig just to earn some extra cash, driving for a rideshare service has become an increasingly popular career route for professionals. But drivers' wages are inextricably linked to the ratings that passengers issue them after each trip, and so each time you leave an Uber or Lyft driver a bad rating, it can have a serious impact on their future at the company.

According to a document leaked from the San Francisco Uber office, Uber drivers are at risk of getting fired if they maintain a rating below 4.6, as reported by Business Insider. Currently, just two to three percent of Uber drivers are below the threshold. Yet "the process of suspending drivers is both highly subjective and very vaguely defined to drivers," Lacy Morris, an Uber and Lyft driver based in Orlando, tells Mic. "Because of this, any rating under five can incite anxiety for drivers.”

Per a recent Nerdwallet study, Uber drivers make an average of $15.97 per ride, while Lyft drivers make an average of $11.48 per ride; both companies offer employees chances to earn more during surge pricing times and bonus weeks. Nearly all bonus opportunities include minimum rating requirements to qualify, however, and so combined with the fact that bad ratings can potentially lead to suspensions — which could affect drivers' ability to support their families and weaken their future job prospects — it's no wonder drivers care deeply about their scores. And it's particularly understandable why some of them resort to flat-out asking passengers for five stars.

With riders often aware of how much is at stake, many people nearly always leave their drivers five stars — whether they deserve them or not. A recent study from New York University's Stern School of Business found that peer-to-peer apps like Uber and Lyft are designed to induce customer guilt, and thus promote rating inflation. The act of sitting in a car with your service provider, the study found, humanizes them in a way that, say, placing an online order with an anonymous Amazon merchant does not, and as a result, riders tend to give higher ratings.

While the NYU study didn't get into specific demographics, there is anecdotal evidence that women, in particular, often feel more pressure to provide high ratings — perhaps due to the fear that giving drivers bad ratings could affect their own safety. According to a recent CNN investigation, 103 Uber drivers in the U.S. were accused of sexual assault and abuse in the last four years, and the number is consistently rising. For all passengers, but especially women, the possibility of getting harassed or assaulted while using rideshare services is unfortunately real. And with the knowledge that drivers might know passengers' home addresses and phone numbers — and could use that info to seek retribution for bad reviews — many women don't feel comfortable giving drivers anything lower than five stars regardless of their actions.

When you add that concern onto the fact that sexual harassment and assault victims are often blamed rather than believed, it's completely clear why many women are hesitant to speak up about transgressions that occur in rideshare services. Yet as paying customers, women have every right to be honest about the quality of service they receive, and reporting issues — sexual or otherwise — can help improve the quality of ridesharing experiences for others going forward.

A Lyft spokesperson tells Mic the company is consistently creating new ways to ensure riders' complaints are heard, addressed, and prevented in the future. "These features include providing license plate numbers in the app for riders to match with the vehicle, photos of the driver and vehicle, and details on the vehicle’s make, model, and color," they explain.

They add that riders hesitant to leave bad reviews should take comfort in knowing that feedback is sent directly to Lyft's 24/7 in-house safety team, not drivers. Similarly, an Uber spokesperson tells Mic, "it's almost impossible for riders or drivers to ID each other based on who left the review. We treat privacy with utmost regard in that way," adding that complaints are also sent directly to their safety team to be immediately addressed and resolved.

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When the companies share feedback with drivers — whether about unsafe driving, rudeness, unsanitary vehicles, or something more serious — it often ends up improving the quality of future rides. “A passenger should always be open to leaving a negative review. It can help [us] improve on the road,” Dan Buffa, an Uber driver based in St. Louis, tells Mic. “As professional drivers, we need the honest feedback, because it helps us get better," he adds. "People don't want to be critical even when they have to, [but] a bad review or rating could really help a driver learn.”

Many Uber drivers, adds Morris, seem to genuinely have their riders’ best interests in mind, with "more aggressive, more short-tempered" drivers accounting for only a small percentage of the pool, in her view. She explains that most drivers she knows previously worked in the sales or service industries, so they "really see themselves as service providers, and want to do the very best job they can to maximize their tips."

As such, leaving your driver a detailed review explaining why you're giving them a bad rating — as long as you feel comfortable doing so — can be supremely helpful. Most drivers "are just concerned with improving and mad at themselves for doing something wrong," explains Morris. "Not knowing what it was makes that a lot tougher.”

When deciding what rating or review to leave a driver, it's important to take it seriously, considering the impact it could have on their careers. But if you're ever made to feel uncomfortable in a rideshare vehicle or are truly displeased with a driver's attitude or ability, remember that it only perpetuates the problem to reward them with a high rating. By being honest about your experience, you'll be helping make the rideshare world a safer, more positive space for future passengers.

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