Uber’s driver/passenger rating system enables discrimination in many forms

Uber has been in the news a lot in recent months, and much of is hasn’t been positive. So I thought I’d kick ’em when they’re down and add my two cents about something that currently isn’t getting much attention — the fact that drivers can rate passengers on the same 5 point scale on which passengers rate drivers. This may not seem like a big deal, but I think it makes absolutely no logical sense and serves to enable those who are already predisposed to discriminate. Let me illustrate.

About 7 weeks ago, I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon and I’ve been using a knee scooter pretty much ever since. I have been required to taxi or Uber to work because it was the tendon in my right calf, and have not been able to drive, and will not be able to for another 3–4 weeks or longer.

Since then, my Uber passenger rating has plummeted from a 4.89 to a 4.68. I at first didn’t think this was a big deal…it’s my Uber rating for pete’s sake, who cares? But according to various sources on the internet, a 4.7 rating is considered “acceptable” and it is likely that drivers will start ignoring your requests when your score dips below that. If drivers ignore my requests, I won’t be able to get to work, or to my doctor appointments.

Further, the way I have treated drivers has not changed in the least since I got my scooter. In fact, I display more gratefulness for their services now because without them, I wouldn’t be able to get where I need to go. My theory is that they are rating me lower simply because of the inconvenience of having to get out of their car and help me. I can’t put any weight on my right leg, so I can’t lift my scooter into their car, lest I fall down and injure myself again. By law, they are required to accommodate disabled riders.

Like others on the net have mentioned, I firmly believe this system seems ripe for enabling blatant discrimination. As a white, able woman I had a 4.89 rating. As a [temporarily] disabled white woman, my rating has suffered. Ableist much?

I have experienced what I think is discrimination firsthand from this rating system. On top of this, having a 5-point rating system for passengers makes zero sense, especially without having any behavioral anchors to explain why a driver would give a particular rating. I would also argue that passengers should be given behavioral anchors to go by when rating drivers, because the fact that a 5 is good and everything else is bad is a total incorrect use of a 5-point rating scale and leads to huge amounts of bias and skew on both sides.

Just for shits, though, let’s try to construct what a passenger 5-point rating scale with behavioral anchors would look like:

5 — Passenger always is courteous, on time, able to provide direction when needed, organized, and tidy.

4 — Passenger is mostly courteous, on time, able to provide direction when needed, organized, and tidy.

3 — Passenger is somewhat courteous, on time, able to provide direction….

And so on and so forth. This is super helpful and clears things right up! Right? No! This just leads to us asking, what separates “mostly” from “somewhat” anyway? Were they somewhat courteous, or somewhat on time? Or were they mostly able to provide direction but very courteous, and what level does that fall under?

As a passenger, am I supposed to try super hard to engage my driver in great conversation or buy them chocolates to try to get a good rating? Even though I am paying them for a service? Is it fair for me to spend my own money on a service and then be penalized for nothing, and risk not being able to use that service for no good reason? I don’t make my drivers wait, I don’t eat or drink in their cars, I don’t damage stuff…I just have a scooter that they have to put in their car for me, which they are required by law to accommodate.

Rather than rating on a 5-point scale, drivers should be able to say whether the passenger is recommended or not, a thumbs up/thumbs down type of rating, rather than a broken 5-point rating scale where anything less than a 4.7 is bad. How stupid.

Drivers should of course be able to voice their concerns over improper treatment from passengers, but the 5-point scale that is being used now is misused and abused. I’d say I’d switch to Lyft, but they do the same thing.

Writing evidence-based, thought-provoking content to spread knowledge and ideas that help people. I hold an MS I/O Psychology and BA Philosophy.