Uber rolls out initiatives to give drivers more choice, flexibility in trips they accept

Starting on Thursday (Nov 9), Uber drivers have more flexibility to choose the trips which suit their schedules and preferences.
Starting on Thursday (Nov 9), Uber drivers have more flexibility to choose the trips which suit their schedules and preferences. PHOTO: REUTERS

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

Starting on Thursday (Nov 9), Uber drivers have more flexibility to choose the trips that suit their schedules and preferences.

For instance, drivers will now know if the trip they are about to accept will be longer than 30 minutes, and they can choose to pass up on these bookings.

Besides being allowed to input their preferred destinations up to twice a day, drivers can also 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 per cent 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 told reporters on Thursday 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 now offering ComfortDelGro cabbies who join them as private-hire drivers a waiver of the 20 per cent commission it collects from fares. Carrots such as a guaranteed $10 fare for every trip are also being dangled.

As of early October, there are about 53,000 drivers who have 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, however, how many drive for Uber or Grab, or both. Both 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".

But Prof Yang said: "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 December and January. Sources said these include an app function allowing passengers to tip drivers.

Uber drivers said they welcomed the new initiatives launched on Thursday.

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 is a boon to 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.