Uber has just confirmed drivers are not independent contractors

In an email to all drivers in Victoria Uber informed of a new “Upfront fares” system. The email dated 27 March reads as follows:

“…Starting today, upfront fares are live in Melbourne. In cities where upfront fares have been introduced, data shows that riders tend to request more because they have more certainty about the price. More overall requests can mean more trips for driver-partners.

How do upfront fares work? With upfront fares, instead of an estimated price range, an upfront fare provides an exact price to the rider before they request a trip. The amount the rider pays is the amount the driver receives, minus Uber’s service fee and any charges. If the trip changes significantly, such as with heavy traffic or multiple extra stops, the fare will automatically be adjusted to use the actual time and distance travelled using the rates that currently exist in your city…

This new system may sound sensible on its face value. However, drivers, (claimed by Uber to be “independent contractors”) are kept in the dark and are not being told what the actual “upfront fare” price is until the trip ends, often underpaying drivers for the actual trip time and kilometers traveled (by up to 25% in many cases). This is a major change of conditions, effectively forcing many drivers into an unannounced pay cut and causing them even more profit loss in an already very tight margins industry.

RSDU have been receiving hundreds of letters from angry drivers since this new system was introduced. Drivers who tried to contact Uber to query the obvious “errors” in calculation of trip gross fares often received from Uber an unhelpful automated reply insisting the “upfront fare” calculated for the trip was done properly, when it was clearly not according to drivers/Uber trip meter. Uber’s automated replies to upfront price driver queries often read as follows:

“…We have checked this trip and can confirm that the calculation of the fare has been carried out correctly. The fares are calculated at the time of the request according to the destination and taking into account time and distance, as well as traffic and demand. In this case, the alternate route taken did not exceed the upfront fare therefore the fare was not adjusted….”

Drivers have a meter. Completed trips have a trip duration and number of kilometers traveled clearly noted. Looking at that information it is quite easy for a driver to see that he/she was short changed, often by up to 25%! And on too many trips.

RSDU have seen numerous cases of “system” intentional miscalculation, cases of drivers being stuck in traffic for extended periods of time due to an accident or a road closure or driving to the destination according to different passenger instructions yet not being compensated for the very obvious “significant changes” to the trip, as originally claimed by Uber.

Furthermore, we have evidence of an Uber support employee admitting the system DOES NOT really compensate drivers for significant trip changes like uber originally promised and noted in their contract with drivers. Heavy unexpected traffic conditions, a common occurrence on Melbourne roads are not being compensated!

One of Uber’s replies to an “upfront fare” query reads as follow:

“…After reviewing the details of this trip, I went ahead and adjusted the fare to $48.67 to reflect the accurate time and distance of the trip.

While upfront fares should take into account all the factors that typically affect the price of a trip, they do not currently account for unexpected changes to the estimated time of a trip, such as wait time or heavy traffic…”

The above evidence was obtained by a driver after numerous support queries, constantly being given the run around and presented with automated replies fraudulently claiming that the queried trip was ‘checked’ when it obviously wasn’t even meant to be looked at.

The question anyone must ask themselves is: if upfront fares are so “upfront” and really designed to provide transparency (as claimed by Uber), then why are drivers the last to know what they are? Often unable to do anything once the trip has ended, only to discover they’ve been short changed and are being paid (for many trips) considerably less to what the meter reads.

Uber drivers are kept in the dark when it comes to the trip destination, knowing what it is only after the trip start, risking deactivation if they cancel. In addition, drivers are now kept in the dark when it comes to the actual cost of the trip, often to discover a nasty surprise in the form of underpayment at the end of it, forced into a frustrating and endless argument with an automated email Uber “support” agent programmed to brush them off!

If upfront prices are so “upfront”, then why are drivers the last to know what they are?
RSDU – Max B.

The first rule of thumb to independent contractor is to know exactly how much they will get paid for a job, let alone a “predetermined” job cost. This should not be a predetermined “third party” surprise drivers are yet to discover and unable to do anything about after discovering they’ve been paid significantly less to what the meter reads. Drivers are conveniently being kept in the dark and are the last to know what the trip upfront price is.  

We have heard of cases of drivers being told by Uber that the new contract agreement regarding upfront pricing was agreed upon by the driver prior to driving. This however is incorrect, mainly due to the fact the system clearly doesn’t compensate drivers in cases of significant trip changes as promised. We have seen cases with up to 30% difference in trip cost yet Uber support insisting on not compensating the driver in question.

We therefore conclude that not only drivers can not be classified as independent contractors by Uber due to this cynical and unfair new  “upfront fare” system. Uber, a multibillion company are actively shortchanging many drivers and cheating them out of their rightful trip pay, in broad daylight.

We call on all full and part time Uber drivers to take a stand and to start reducing their Uber driving to the the minimum possible from this point on. Australia currently enjoy a flood of new rideshare operators entering the market. RSDU recommends that drivers register with all available operators in their city and start giving them much more attention. No operator is perfect when it comes to driver working conditions but at least they don’t use an abusive “upfront fare” system to cheat drivers out of their rightful trip pay. Some operators pay much better then others and one operator will even let you know the trip destination once you arrive to the pickup location (before the trip starts).

Drivers! It is now in your very best interest to inform passengers on any given platform about ALL the available operators in your city and highlight the special offers that they may currently have.

We see it as a duty of RSDU to warn and help drivers, ensuring that disgraceful practices such as cheating drivers under this false “upfront fare” pretense are not allowed to continue in this country.

RSDU has launched an online Uber gross fare calculator to help drivers quickly determine the real gross fare for a trip according to the trip meter. Visit our website and feel free to use it and compare your Uber stated gross fare to your actual trip meter.

Please drive safe at all times. Stay tuned for (exciting) news coming soon…

Max B., Ride Share drivers United   



Update 26 July 2018, Thank you to all the drivers taking part in the special ABC investigation, (instigated by the RSDU) into Uber “upfront pricing” and UberPool. You can read the full ABC article by clicking this link.



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