Someone is now watching your Uber driver

Transport officials have issued hundreds of warning letters to drivers thinking of working for Uber. Photo / Dean Purcell
Transport officials have issued hundreds of warning letters to drivers thinking of working for Uber. Photo / Dean Purcell

Ride-hailing service Uber is tracking personal driver behaviour after a series of app updates, the company announced last week.

Starting last Friday in 26 cities across the United States including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the app will score drivers on how well they brake, if they accelerate smoothly, use their phone while driving, drive within the speed limit and more.

Drivers will be notified in real time on the app's interface if they exceed the speed limit or use their phone. After rides, they will receive ratings on their driving performance and a map highlighted where incidents such as hard brakes or fast turns occurred.

The company said in its announcement that the changes are geared toward rider and driver safety.

The alerts are rolling out one at a time across different cities. D.C. drivers will see reports on phone movement and speeding, for example. New York drivers will see reports on speeding and abrupt stops and starts.

A spokesman for Uber in New Zealand said there were currently no plans to introduce the system here.

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Most poor driver ratings, Uber said, are because passengers criticise driver behaviour. It hopes these report cards, issued daily, will help drivers improve their habits.

The company will not use the data gathered to remove drivers from the platform, and passengers will not be able to see the report cards.

Commercial driving fleets, like limousine services and taxi companies, have used similar technology, called telematics, for decades.

Doc Rushing, 76, of South Bend, Indiana, has driven for Uber for a year and likened the new features to customer feedback his father received while driving Greyhound buses in the 1940s and '50s. He said the reports will give him an advantage over other drivers in the area who might not have as safe and smooth driving habits.

"It will allow me to shine," he said. "I am a conservative, perfectionist driver. Most of my riders seem to appreciate my approach to driving."

Telematics have gained more use with the widespread use of cellphones that have built-in gyroscopes and GPS capability. Consider the dashcam app Nexar, which creates a database of bad drivers and their locations using similar technology.

Uber's app changes reflect myriad tensions between the service and labour activists because Uber drivers are considered independent contractors rather than employees. Typically, those are reserved to compensation and benefit disputes but now extend to driver privacy as the company, which claims independence from the drivers, wants to observe and document their behaviour.

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"With each degree of greater control that is exercised over the driver, Uber may find itself traveling down a path where a court might say there is an inadequate buffer of keeping these drivers independent contractors," said Andrea Matwyshyn, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University.

Uber at the end of 2015 launched a smaller pilot of a telematics program to track harsh braking among its Houston drivers. Those drivers received notifications once a week via email as opposed to daily reports displayed on the app.

But Rushing said he's not concerned about how the company monitors his behaviour behind the wheel. Customers already rate drivers on a five-star scale, he said. The safety features will give clients more incentive to give him better ratings.

Matwyshyn said the tracking features present another choice for drivers and riders to make before they get in the car. If behavioural data is unimportant to them, or too invasive, they can find another ride-hailing service that doesn't use the same methods.

- Washington Post

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