Ola, Uber drivers on strike today

Time for tips

Uber's days without tipping are numbered in New York City.

Ever since Uber agreed to recognize the IDG as its drivers' representative last May, the group has put tipping at the top of its demands-and gotten nowhere.

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The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has announced plans aimed at forcing all cab companies that take payment via credit card to offer a tipping option. As Uber faces myriad controversies this year, it's locked in intense competition with Lyft Inc. for drivers, and any worker who feels tipping is important can easily switch to Uber's rival.

The rule will require Uber to "conform to industry standards", according to Jim Conigliaro, Jr, founder of the Independent Drivers Guild.

The ruling followed an April 6 hearing at the TLC on industry economics, at which a succession of drivers testified to the difficulty of making a living in an increasingly crowded market. It would be very easy to see other major cities following Gotham's lead and requiring cashless tipping as well. As my colleague Sean O'Kane correctly notes, Uber made a decision to cap surge pricing during emergencies nationwide in 2014 after NY first forced the ride-hail to adopt the policy.

While Uber hasn't yet added a tipping button to its app, Lyft has had one for a while now; it would already be in compliance with the proposed rule should it pass. Uber has a history of pulling out of locations when rules change that aren't in its favor, but it's hard to imagine the company leaving NYC. If I have a few singles on me, I'll try to do it, especially if the driver does something, like help loading a bag for a ride to the airport, or is just generally pleasant.

The Guild said in a press statement that a tipping feature would mean an extra $300 million per year for New York City drivers. Although the company is vaguely okay with cash tipping - how would it even find out? - the app itself has no mechanism for tipping.

There is some merit to these arguments, but the fact of the matter is that tips represent a significant part of most drivers' income.

Conigliaro praised the proposed rule as "a vitally important step forward for drivers", citing the lack of protections for drivers such as paid sick leave and minimum wage rules.

'They really need tips to make ends meet'. For example, it added the ability for riders to offer "compliments" to drivers in November 2016 - a move that was criticized by some, who said "compliments don't pay the bills". The ride-hail giant claimed drivers in NY made more than $90,000 a year, but the agency found the median income of drivers there is $29,000 less than that.

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