Your Private Driver: The Five-Star Experience

(This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Monday after the live show, right here

Most people are aware by now that a rating system exists for both drivers and passengers when using the Uber and Lyft platforms. However, the details of how those ratings work appear to be a mystery to many of those same people. I frequently see questions on Reddit and Facebook from riders asking why their rating dropped or how they can get it higher. As a driver, a.k.a. one who doles out those passenger ratings and talks to other drivers about the same topic, there’s no fail-safe answer–but there are certain consistencies that can be cobbled together into some general rating-boosting advice.

Before we get to that though, I want to tell you that passenger ratings don’t really matter. The only difference between a 3.5 and a 4.9 is bragging rights. Some drivers in busy markets may pass on a passenger that doesn’t have a rating above some arbitrary threshold, but there will always be three more who won’t care and will pick you up anyway. Uber and Lyft don’t even deactivate riders for low ratings; I’ve seen riders with ratings as low as 1.7 before. That being said, if you just want a nice, high number anyway, read on.

Tip your driver. I’m putting this first because if you leave a tip, you can pretty much ignore everything else I type today. Seriously, most drivers will automatically five-star a tipper regardless of anything else. On the flip side, an increasing minority of drivers will only hand out five-star ratings to people who tip, meaning that you could be a model passenger otherwise and still end up with a four. If you’re really serious about keeping a high or perfect rating, tipping your driver is as close to a guaranteed method as you can get.

Be where you say you’re gonna be. Thanks to some questionable UI choices by the app developers, it’s annoyingly easy to send your driver to a place that’s three blocks, three miles, or even three continents away from where you actually are. The best way to avoid fat-fingering the pin to the wrong location is by typing it in manually. You don’t have to know the exact address, typing the name of the business, bar, or club you’re in will work as well. Oh, and I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t request to be picked up in a place that automobiles can’t actually get to.

Be on time. You have an almost exact ETA of when your driver will arrive, there’s no reason they should be kept waiting for more than a minute or so. Keep a driver waiting more than five minutes and they may leave without you, and you’ll be charged a cancellation fee.

No eating, drinking, and especially no smoking. At least ask the driver first, but don’t be surprised if they say no. Strong scents are difficult to get out of a car and they can spoil the experience for the next rider.

Those are the important tips, along with generally not being a horrible human being. If you want to see how you’re doing with your rating progress… that can be a little bit of a pain. Lyft won’t directly tell you your passenger rating, but they’ll give you a happy notification or text message every time a driver gives you five stars. Uber hides this info deep in the app menus; Selecting Help from the main menu, then Account and Payment > Account Settings and Ratings > I’d like to know my rating > SUBMIT.

Uber sample rating

Presenting my qualifications to be writing this stuff.

Well, that’s all I have to say about passenger ratings, what about driver ratings? Sure you all know that you can (and probably should) rate your driver after every trip. However, where passenger ratings have no real consequence, drivers can actually deactivated if their rating falls below a certain threshold, usually around 4.6 (this number can vary depending on the market). This means that any rating that’s not five-stars is basically a vote of no confidence.

Still, if a driver is unsafe behind the wheel, has a smelly or unusually dirty car, or just talks too much, a four-star rating is not inappropriate. It’s a way of letting him or her know that they need to improve (and you should definitely leave feedback to that extent). Ratings of three stars and lower should be reserved for drivers who really have no business behind the wheel. Try not to use ratings as revenge; a driver opting to not take you through the McDonalds drive thru or break traffic laws because you’re late for work is not a valid reason for a low rating.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!