I have always cared about grades. Since I can remember, I have too closely equated any sort of outside rating with my own self-worth. Yes, this was great when it came to school, but it also means that I'm fiercely competitive. I don’t like to engage in any activity that I don’t feel I’ll excel at. I’m sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with all of this, but that’s not what I want to discuss. All this time, I’ve been getting a terrible grade and I didn’t even realise it. I am, of course, talking about the most important grade you can receive as a modern adult: your Uber rating.
Let’s take a step back. Until fairly recently, I didn’t even know you could check your own Uber rating. I thought it was one of those urban myths that people throw around when they’re waiting for an Uber because they’re bored. “Ooh, I bet you have a terrible rating!” I’ve heard my friends jeer to one another far too often. I always rolled my eyes. But during those moments, deep down I imagined I'd definitely have a 5.0. I considered myself a model citizen with impeccable manners. Moreover, I use Uber quite a bit and I thought, albeit rather pompously, that everyone at HQ really appreciated me and thought of me as a “real Uber person.” Ironically, this couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I was on a date when I discovered my true rating. As we were getting into a Prius, my date asked me if I knew my rating. I chuckled and informed him condescendingly that such knowledge was impossible to retrieve. He disagreed, and with an innocent smile, I handed over my cell. As he was swiping and clicking, I began to explain that I was basically the modern-day Emily Post, with manners so sharp you could cut your finger on them.
He paused and smiled…and then flashed my phone towards me with a cocked head and a smirk. The numbers glared back at me. 4.4. I screamed internally. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. I had a flashback of every unexpected bad grade I had ever gotten. How had this happened?
For a second, I was genuinely confused. That can’t be right! I thought. I’m always nice to my Uber drivers. I give everyone 5 stars. I smell nice… or so I thought!? Then the flashbacks started rolling in. The time I hadn’t gotten a job and cried hysterically over FaceTime to my mom during a 40-minute Uber ride. The time in college when I had snuck nine girls into a Ford Explorer Uber by persuading the driver to let us sit in the trunk. Every single time I’ve annoyingly asked, “Do you have an Aux cable?” “Can you turn it up?” “Can I borrow your charger?”
The irony is that I really am obsessed with manners. I get strangely over-excited when other people’s parents like me. I send thank-you notes like it’s my job, and I often swat my friends' elbows off the dinner table. (I sound like a real riot, I know.) Why then, had I let it all slip with Uber?
I vowed to turn my rating around. I needed an aggressive strategy, and fast. My plan was threefold. 1) Never, ever make an Uber wait again. Be outside before I call it. Answer on the first ring if they need directions. 2) Be manically polite in the Uber. No phone calls, no music requests, and no direction suggestions. (During this process I also discovered I am a control freak. Yay!) 3) The hardest one. No drunk Ubers with anyone else. As I looked back on how my Uber rating might have gotten so bad — not to shift the blame off me at all — I realised I have a habit of being the one to call the Uber home, and therefore, take the brunt of everyone’s “well-lubricated” behaviour.
So, I set off on my journey for Uber redemption. Waiting in the cold, waving my arm in the street like a maniac, saying please and thank you like I was a in a finishing-school final. I checked back in a month or so. 4.5! Progress felt great. As time went on, I actually started to talk to my drivers about my crusade. Many of them thought it was very funny. Many of them admitted to giving people worse ratings if they were in a bad mood (traffic does that to all of us, y’all). Many told me little intricacies I’d never thought of.
One driver described a passenger who was swearing nonstop, and explained how unpleasant it was. One driver explained he finds it annoying when people say, “Five stars??” expectedly as they get out of the car. “I’ll be the one to decide,” he said. Another driver explained he got really lonely and always got sad when people didn’t want to talk to him during the ride. “The number-one tip I’d give to riders (besides being on time!) is to be courteous," Lorianna Ferrara, an Uber driver who works in New Jersey, told me. "Cleaning up after yourself and your belongings is a small gesture but it’s greatly appreciated, not only by me, but by everyone riding after you."
The number-one tip I’d give to riders (besides being on time!) is to be courteous.
I also spoke with Uber to directly to find out more about why they use the rating system, as well as what you can do to boost your ratings. “We want Uber to be a respectful environment for riders and drivers alike,” an Uber spokesperson explained. “Ratings and feedback help contribute to an up-to-date quality assurance system." (And ratings are always reported as averages, so neither riders nor drivers will see the individual rating left for a certain trip.) There doesn't seem to be a hard and fast cutoff as to what makes a "good" or "bad" Uber score, but enough bad behaviour could get you booted from the service.
In terms of keeping your rating high, Uber suggested a lot of the same strategies I had already applied: “Be timely, be courteous, don’t pile in,” Uber told me. But the tip that stood out the most was to be friendly. “Moms, veterans, seniors, and other people from all walks of life are driving with Uber. The small things, like asking how your driver’s day is going, or saying thank you, can go along way.” Amen to that.
I’m happy to report that more than six months later, my Uber rating climbed to a healthy 4.8. It took hard work and dedication — and some weird conversations — but it was important to me to right the wrong. Some of what I learned made sense: Uber drivers generally dislike when you play loud music or squeeze in an extra person (which is also illegal, I should add). They are inconvenienced when you make them wait for you, and appreciate accurate pickup locations. But some of what I learned is more abstract: Sometimes you can do everything right in an Uber and still feel like they rated you badly. If the destination was far away, or if there was tons of traffic, for example.
Uber is a technology service, yes, but it’s also a deeply personal one. Many Uber drivers work part-time on the side and don’t know your city — maybe even less than you. After talking to dozens of drivers, what I walked away with is that using common sense is the best way to get a high rating. Don’t be a jerk, and everything will be A-OK.