Uber aiming to keep drivers satisfied

They can reject certain trips as well as state preferred destinations, among other things.

Uber drivers Bear Gunashagran (in white shirt) and Ryan Brown are pleased with the initiatives rolled out by the company.

In an apparent answer to rival Grab’s aggressive campaign to woo cabbies and expand its fleet, ride-hailing app Uber yesterday rolled out a slew of initiatives aimed at keeping its own drivers satisfied and motivated.

Uber drivers now have more flexibility to choose the trips that suit their schedules and preferences. For instance, they will know if the trip they are about to accept will be longer than 30 minutes, and they can choose to pass up on it.

Besides being allowed to input their preferred destinations up to twice a day, drivers can specify an arrival time, so Uber assigns them jobs aligned with their schedules.

The company has also removed a condition for drivers to do 80 percent of all jobs assigned to them – called an acceptance rate – in order to be eligible for bonuses.

Uber Singapore’s head of operations Jonathan Wong yesterday told reporters that the initiatives, which have been piloted progressively from two months ago, sprang from ongoing focus group discussions and feedback sessions with drivers.

“Working with our drivers, to our high standards, we may have not done as good a job of listening as hard as we should have,” Mr Wong added.

Asked about Grab’s moves to poach cabbies from Singapore’s largest taxi operator, ComfortDelGro, Uber said it does not believe in targeting just one group of drivers in expanding its driver pool, but in offering the same benefits to all.

According to reports, Grab is offering ComfortDelGro cabbies who join them as private-hire drivers a waiver of the 20 percent commission it collects from fares. Carrots, like a guaranteed $10 fare for every trip, are also being dangled.

As of early last month, there were about 53,000 drivers who had been approved by the Land Transport Authority to provide private-hire chauffeur services, under a new licensing regime that took effect in July.

It is unclear how many drive for Uber or Grab, or both. The two companies have also been tight-lipped about numbers.

Assistant Professor Yang Nan, of the National University of Singapore Business School’s strategy and policy department, said Uber’s latest move is aimed at cultivating loyalty among drivers, who are “at least equally important as riders in this business”.

Prof Yang added: “From my conversations with Grab and Uber, they seem to share the viewpoint that there is this fixed pool of drivers and the division among players is quite stable.”

Meanwhile, Uber said it plans to roll out other benefits for drivers in the coming two months. Sources said these include an app function allowing passengers to tip drivers.

Uber drivers said they welcomed the new initiatives.

Mr Ryan Brown, 39, who has been driving for seven months, said the acceptance rate used to be a “bother”.

“You have to keep looking at the number… You feel in the back of your head that someone is always pushing you,” said Mr Brown.

Another driver, Mr Bear Gunashagran, 36, said knowing which trips are longer than 30 minutes will be good for his health. He related a case of having to pull over to a petrol kiosk mid-trip to “answer the call of nature”.

“Me and my bladder thank Uber for this,” he quipped.

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