Should I tip my ride-share driver?

Here I come in my Lambo with Godzilla, trailing flames. In my other life as a super-hero, I drive at night on weekends for a popular ride-sharing platform, keeping regular citizens safe from their worst enemy– themselves. The platforms say “no tipping” as a policy, and while I may have some vested interest in this, here are a few reasons why you should be prepared to tip your driver. I’ll also give you some suggestions, er, tips, for how much is appropriate.

Ride-sharing platforms are an interesting blend of free-market agorism (libertarianism) and raw, unabated, greed-driven capitalism. They fight against the legal system to allow anyone to turn their car into a business. They say it isn’t a cab and part of their argument could be founded upon the fact that nobody’s really making more than expenses. If they have to, in court, they could demonstrate that, I’m sure of it. The South Bend airport features a motto that “there’s no stopping an idea whose time has come” and ride-sharing has arrived. People want it. It’s not going away.

In that way, you’re really “sharing” the car, as if it was a carpool. But we all know it isn’t a carpool. It’s rare that I pick up a rider who just happens to be going my way. I’m not out at 2 A.M. to just have fun or to find someone going my way who will help cover some of my expense. I’m there to make money. But the platform pays enough to cover expenses, and that’s about it. What this means is I can make my car payment and take care of the vehicle, then write it all off, and that’s about all I get. Which is great. For now…

The way I figure it, the profit’s all in tips. If I drive 30 miles in an hour and get $15 for it, that’s covering my expenses. If I was charging you cash, I’d be asking for $30/hour. Even that’s break-even money if we’re zipping along a highway doing 60-plus mph for that entire hour.

Here’s my tipping suggestion. Carry some singles, and always give your driver a minimum of $2. A lot of riders in my market go only a mile or two. Might not sound like a big deal, but I can only do about five of those in an hour, since it almost always takes ten minutes to go complete a pickup, and deliver them a mile away, if not a little more. The longest part of the trip is often waiting for them to get in the car after I’ve arrived. Be ready to go and communicate your location clearly. (last weekend, when I requested a more accurate location, a rider texted me that they were “outside” and I replied that “‘outside’ is a very big place”.) At normal (non-premium) rates at that distance, I’m grossing $2-3 per ride, and that’s $10-15 in a really busy hour. I drove about 17 full hours last weekend, and only two of those hours paid out more than $22.

Add $1-2 if you’re in the car over ten minutes, or five bucks if you ride over twenty minutes to a half hour. A longer ride, say 45 minutes, you may want to consider $10. Remember, your driver has expenses to come pick you up, which may be equal or greater than the expense of taking you somewhere (that all depends how remote you are and how far you go). Either way there’s no compensation from the platform for going somewhere to make a pickup, which is not a big deal if the driver is five minutes away and you ride for 45 minutes, but it’s a big deal if you take a short ride. Five short rides in an hour means almost half of that hour is uncompensated.

Pay attention to how long it takes your driver to arrive. They are not dawdling. If it takes more than ten minutes, it means they’ve probably spent $2-5 to come get you. If you then take a short ride (under ten minutes) it’s almost certainly a loss for the driver. That means you’re what I call “remote”, and you may want to consider increasing your tip appropriately, another $2.

I know that the whole idea of ride-sharing is you don’t have to carry cash, and it’s nice that you aren’t obligated to tip, but until the platforms significantly increase how much they pay the drivers, it’s the right thing to do … and it will keep good drivers in business.

What I mean by good drivers is this: people who are conscientious and take pride to do their work well. Once the ride-share platforms begin to attract only the lowest level workers, people who can’t do math and realize they’re losing money; people who don’t care about you getting where you need to be in a safe, efficient manner, you’re not going to get much in the way of great service, either. Tipping will keep good drivers on the road. Tipping will make this a job people want to have, not just a job people do because it’s the only thing available to them.

Don’t let a driver tell you they won’t accept tips. They are taught to say that. Insist, and believe me, they will accept it. Leave $2 on the seat if you must. They will not throw it away.

Consider being ready to tip a larger amount in the event that you get excellent service. There are ways people can go above and beyond. They sit in a drive-through with you for ten minutes? Yes, the meter is running, but the pay for time only isn’t much. You can offer to buy tacos, and your driver may accept, but cash is king. They help you load something heavy into the car? They get you somewhere in the nick of time? What’s it worth to be treated like family to you?

Should you tip if prices are surging? I’m a little ambiguous on that. If it’s at 1.5 x, maybe yes. If it’s over 2 x, maybe not. Or maybe you should figure that it helps compensate for the hour or two that driver sat, doing nothing, just to be available when things got hot and you suddenly needed a ride. If that driver is your super-hero of the moment, then compensate accordingly.