Ridesharing observations: rider pickup problems in Boston 2016

From the experienced riders’ perspective, here are a few ridesharing surprises experienced in the first half of 2016, mainly in the Boston market. They have been experienced on the “Big 3” ridesharing services in Boston: Uber, Lyft and Fasten.

Driver not moving or going other way after call accepted

Specifically, the rider sees the driver has accepted the call, but then the driver unexpectedly does one of:

driver does not move driver drives away driver seems to drive towards
for more than a minute perhaps to an obvious hotspot but keeps going and doesn’t come your way

From my observations, here are a few motivations for drivers engaging in this annoying behavior. It got so endemic in early summer 2016 that I had to put extra time in my schedule as a rider just for these driver tricks.

driver doesn’t move after ride accept

may be a driver trying a variant of the ACRO method (Accept, Cancel, Reason: Other) to avoid getting a 5-15 minute penalty offline timeout from the driver app for rejecting/ignoring too many pings in a short time period. The driver may be waiting for an imminent surge in their spot. Since the big April 21, 2016 settlement for Uber drivers in California and Massachusetts, Uber can’t so immediately “fire” drivers for ACRO and other non-acceptance methods that can leave riders annoyed. After this settlement I personally observed a jump in drivers using this family of techniques.

driver drives away

here the driver is quite actively trying to annoy the rider into canceling by driving in the opposite direction of the pickup. I have deliberately waited as much as 30 minutes in response (making the driver miss surge pricing pickups). Perhaps the driver had an emergency or otherwise forgot to cancel. Except that it happened multiple times on different days. It’s a known technique. The thought is that the driver is less penalized if the rider cancels, but Uber in response put this as one of the cancellation reasons for the rider to select, “ratting out” the unscrupulous driver.

seems to drive towards but then evades

A few possibilities, including driver is using another app and is completing a ride. The driver may have forgotten to sign out, or is collecting the hourly “guarantee” rate (double-dipping) on two or more ridesharing services. If a taxi, maybe they got a street hail while coming your way (this was my very first UberTaxi experience).

Candidate fixes to ridesharing pickup problems

These methods are annoying to riders, who often have urgent transportation needs. The rate of use of these methods seems to be taming after the initial post-April 21 2016 ridesharing settlement burst, at least in Boston. Straightforward machine learning would help combat these techniques, or even more simply via user app cancel feedback. Trends should be obvious to spot, and rather than firing or offlining unscrupulous drivers, the app server could think of more creative solutions such as: giving a higher percentage of further away pickups, lowering priority in pickup pool, etc. Not so unlike the “ghosting” technique used to combat forum trolls. Variable friction can be more effective than fixed pushback.