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Programmer Makes Claims Of Systematic Flaw In Uber Eats Pay Structure

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Matt Wujciak

Uber Eats

Armin Samii is a computer scientist who until recently worked at a self-driving car company, Argo AI, and has been working part-time for Uber Eats since leaving. 

The programmer and Uber Eats delivery worker built a tool that he claimed provides evidence that the food delivery service has consistently been underpaying drivers such as himself, Salon reported on Thursday.

Samii built a Chrome browser extension called "UberCheats" that helps drivers track their trips and pay, and said the initial data showed Uber shorting delivery workers on 25-30% of trips, according to Salon.

Samii told Business Insider that using the most recent data, which spans four days and includes submissions from around 160 Uber Eats drivers and bike delivery couriers, he estimates Uber underpaid workers on 21% of trips (which he defined as the app under-counting workers' mileage by at least half a mile).

Uber Eats drivers and bike couriers, like most food delivery workers, are paid in part on a per-mile basis, and Samii told Business Insider that his data showed them being underpaid by an average of 1.3 miles on those 21% of total trips his tool tracked.

"I had this one delivery that was an hour-and-a-half long and I got paid $16 and I thought, 'There is no way that's right,'" Samii said. "I looked into it and found out that Uber paid me for a one mile delivery instead of a four mile delivery. Of course it's all made worse because I'm on a bike and they don't account for that, but that's a separate issue. I called them and said, 'Look, it's one mile instead of four.' And they replied, 'You need to go to email support.'"

Samii then had a prolonged email exchange with Uber Eats, in which the company denied that there was any bug on their end and gave various pieces of troubleshooting advice to the frustrated delivery person. Eventually, Samii decided to cut to the chase.

"I said, 'Look, this is a simple issue. You've underpaid me. It says right here, you paid me for one mile and I traveled four,'" Samii told Salon. "Eventually I got on the phone, I got their consent to record the call, got them to admit that there is a bug and they paid me a fair difference. It [was] only $4, but they admitted the bug in the end."

Samii told Salon that after multiple back-and-forths with Uber customer service, they admitted it was a bug and paid him the actual wage he was owed, but that based on the data he collected: "this is pretty widespread and pretty egregious. And I don't think Uber has any plans to fix it."

My take 

Samii made some allegations and Uber responded. However, there are some clear stakeholder experience takeaways. First, transferring Samii to email support regarding a clearly personalized and unique problem that requires a live conversation only makes it more difficult for a customer (or driver, in this case), and the Uber employees who have to communicate with him on multiple channels before resolving his problem. 

Read More: How-to Guide: How To Create A 360 Degree Customer View

Second, denying that there was ever a problem is rarely a good move on a brand’s part. This means the company was most likely unaware that there was a bug in the algorithm affecting the pay of Samii, or any other drivers. If they were unaware, this means they refused to look into Samii’s problem until it escalated, encouraging him to cut to the chase and gain their consent in recording the call, displaying that he wants to be taken seriously. The story feels as if Uber failed to listen to Samii until they understood they could face bigger problems if they didn’t.

The most important problem is the pay structure that Samii says is “pretty widespread and pretty egregious. And I don't think Uber has any plans to fix it.”

Uber was once a revolutionary idea for ride-sharing and instantaneous transportation. As many innovative enterprises continue to invest in the expansion of different service offerings (i.e. meal delivery serving as just one example for Uber), they need to make sure they have all the kinks figured out.  

For example, the pay structure for customer spending and freelance employee earning, has notoriously been a complicated web of algorithms that have often been under scrutiny over the past few years. 

"Just as people ordering food can see how much they will pay in advance, delivery partners will now see how much they'll make on a delivery pre-tip, alongside other details before they decide to accept it," an Uber spokesperson told Salon. An Uber spokesperson also told Salon that it changed its pricing starting in 2019 to show an upfront fare to delivery people that they can accept or reject, intended to give delivery people the best expectations of their earnings at the outset of each trip.

In addition to the alleged underpayment, Samii told Salon that he has concerns about whether Uber Eats is sufficiently transparent about how employees get paid. "If you have to wait at a restaurant for 15 minutes, there's no way of knowing, 'Should I wait it out or should I cancel the order and not get paid?'" . 

He also claimed that Uber Eats is not considerate of bike couriers, from sending them on inconvenient routes (such as having to cross highways and bridges) to paying people who deliver by bicycle using the same standards that are applied for cars.

An Uber spokesperson told Salon that they work to ensure that the price for each trip accurately reflects the distance, effort and time required of their delivery personnel. A spokesperson also told Salon that if orders take longer than expected and the courier is forced to wait, their final receipt will show that they earned more than the upfront price they had accepted.

Certain metrics such as effort and exact wait times are not always an easy data point to record because the entire experience is not always 100% smooth. The driver, restaurant, or customer can be at fault. And when there are a lot of pieces moving at a fast pace, there is little room for error in Uber’s algorithms to accurately and fairly record different metrics, whether it be for the sake of drivers, Uber, or most importantly, the customer.  

This is a time when the world is vulnerable, where every person and organization is adapting to life with a live virus in their midst, where no one is operating from a best-in-class pandemic playbook to survive modern financial Darwinism. Brands, including marketers and customer experience departments must become the very people they’re trying to reach. This means that among innovation, compliance, time and technology, humanity must become the greatest application. 

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Read More: The Rise Of The Mobile Customer Experience

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