By Ellen Huet 10/8/14
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that some Uber drivers’ cars had not undergone a vehicle inspection before being put on the platform. In fact, Uber had not inspected the car but had accepted a proof of recent state-issued vehicle inspection for the car.
Uber puts some drivers out on the road with barely any training — and makes them pay out of pocket if they want basic driver training, drivers say.
Even after a route dispute led to a driver allegedly fracturing his passenger’s skull with a hammer this month, Uber isn’t giving drivers the kind of training that might have prevented that attack. Instead, they’re telling drivers that if they want to learn how to be good drivers, they need to shell out $40 to $65 on a class that will take them off the road for 4 hours — something most drivers can’t afford or won’t pay for.
When Michael Coe, 38, signed up to be an Uber driver in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago, he was shocked to find that once his driver’s license and identity paperwork had cleared, he was asked to come in to pick up a phone — then put on the road with no training except a 13-minute video on how to use the Uber app.
“When I got to one of the onboarding sessions at a local hotel, it was like, ‘Here’s your papers, go to the other room, get your phone, and great — get on the road and drive,’” Coe told Forbes.
No one from Uber had more than a passing conversation with him before he was set to give what the company calls “the world’s safest, most reliable ride.” Uber never looked at his car either, though he did have to provide proof of a recent Virginia state car inspection.
Coe was never trained on how to navigate the D.C. area or given tips on how to resolve disputes with passengers — both of which could have helped avoid incidents like the alleged hammer attack on Roberto Chicas, where Chicas and the driver argued over the route. Also, no one tried to suss out whether Coe had the right personality for a customer-oriented job — a tall order for car-service app companies, but one that Chicas’s attorney, Harry Stern, says Uber should have done.
Charging $65 For Training ‘Fundamentals’
As paltry training, Uber offers a series of videos like “How to get 5-star ratings” and “What makes Uber great.” None of it covers how to handle difficult situations, Coe said. “If your rider is being belligerent, what do you do? What do you do with an unruly passenger?” he said. “We don’t know.”
Instead, Uber dumps its training costs onto drivers. Coe got a text last week from Uber telling D.C.-area drivers that if they wanted to learn “how to provide more professional service and how to improve your navigation of the city,” they could sign up for a four-hour class — for $65.
The class isn’t mandatory, Uber stressed — an important point for Uber to make, since requiring independent-contractor drivers to take classes might be tiptoeing into employee territory. And making it mandatory for all drivers would be an unnecessary financial barrier for experienced drivers. Coe felt it should have been offered, but not at a cost.
“I couldn’t believe they were charging people to take a course you’d think was a standard,” Coe said.
The driver training course in question has portions specifically dedicated toward handling customer disputes and navigation tips, said Zach Forester, a partner at 7×7 Executive, a San Francisco limo company that runs the trainings. The course has been around since this summer and is also offered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Orange County and Phoenix for $40 to $65.
“We actually have a module specifically targeted toward some topics like dealing with clients in all sorts of capacities, such as when they get upset,” Forester said.
The classes are required for Uber Black drivers and are offered to new UberX drivers and UberX drivers whose star ratings are dropping, Forester said. But the topics covered in the class aren’t something supplemental for drivers who want to go above and beyond. They’re the basics of how to be a courteous and safe driver — and Uber won’t pay for its drivers learn them.
“It’s not like we’re teaching rocket science here,” Forester said. “It’s fundamentals. Literally fundamentals.”
Flooding The Driver Market
Lyft didn’t respond immediately to whether they offer driver training courses, though all Lyft drivers meet face-to-face with a Lyft mentor for an onboarding process. Mentors check a Lyft driver’s car, walk them through how to use the app and go for a test ride with the new driver.
In California and other markets, drivers are required to undergo an annual 19-point vehicle inspection, which can be done by third parties. The California regulation for Uber and Lyft also says the companies have to “establish a driver training program” but doesn’t specify further.
At least Coe had to see an Uber rep face-to-face — even for a minute — before hitting the road. That may soon change. Last month, Uber started charging drivers $10 a week to use a company phone. As an alternative to the fee, they also started allowing iPhone users to use their own phones to run the driver app. That means a new driver could, in theory, submit paperwork online, pass a Social Security and driver’s license check, and be cleared to download the app and hit the road without Uber ever seeing or talking to the person.
“Without a phone pickup, there would be no reason that you would have to go in,” Coe said. “Uber’s more concerned with flooding a market with a supply of drivers than they are with the quality of the product and the safety of their passengers.”