Hidden Uber Costs? Drivers ask company to be more transparent with fees

PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Getting a ride has never been easier, but is the convenience of clicking a button on your phone forcing customers to pay hidden costs, and at the same time, ripping off the drivers?

As we increasingly accelerate into a rideshare world, companies like Uber will continue to get hit with starts and stops. In Phoenix, Uber drivers are asking the rideshare giant to pump the brakes on what they're calling a scheme to overcharge passengers and under pay drivers.

"There's no transparency," said one of the four drivers interviewed by FOX 10's Matt Galka. "In the rider app you can't even see the charge breakdown."

The four drivers wished to remain anonymous, in fear of retaliation from Uber. They want to keep driving, and thought if they spoke out, the company would end their ability to do that.

The drivers say the company's pricing and pay structure isn't fair, and it started when the company rolled out "upfront pricing."

"What upfront pricing is, is that when you get in the car, you have already agreed upon a price. Now that price might be an accurate price, or it might be manipulated and it might be a way inflated price," said one of the drivers.

In the Valley, Uber usually sticks to a formula: a booking fee, a base fare, a per-minute charge of nine cents, a per-mile charge of 95 cents, and then a variable service fee or minimum fare. The drivers say, however, that the price is based on a non-transparent route being used by the company.

"The way they determine that is 'best route.' Well, whose best route?" asked one driver. "Is it best for time? Best for price? Best for speed, or what? But in most cases, Uber's best route is more expensive than if we used our own GPS."

Here are some examples given to us by the drivers. In one particular trip, the rider paid $23.48. The driver got $13.03, and Uber got $10.45. The problem, according to the drivers, is that the rider should have been charged less, or the driver should have gotten more. Uber was supposed to get 20%, but they took about 45% of what the rider paid.

"$2.65, 95 cents a mile, 9 cents a minute, it can't get any more black and white than that," said one driver. "That's what the customer should pay. That's not what they're paying."

"The model is very tech and very data-driven," said data and analytics expert Phil Simon, a professor at Arizona State University. Simon spoke with FOX 10 about Uber's fare system and the driver's concerns. He has written about Uber's ability to use data to drive revenue, and he says they're not the only ones doing it.

"Do I know for a fact that Uber is doing something with regard to price discrimination? No, but I would bet on it, because they're able to do that and if you think about it, price discrimination is something that a lot of companies will use. Think about the airlines. If I want to buy an airline ticket at the last minute, I'm probably going to pay more, right? Ditto for maybe a concert. In the movie theaters, we typically offer discounts to infants or to senior citizens. So there actually is a decent history of price discrimination in this country and that doesn't necessarily make it wrong."

Harry Campbell, owner of the blog "The Rideshare Guy," has documented similar cases around the country.

"What we also discovered was basically that Uber is now charging different riders different amounts for the exact same trips," said Campbell, via a phone interview. "So where this comes up is, let's say you're with friends, and you each request a ride and you each price out a ride on Uber, but don't request it, and we're now starting to see that certain people are getting charged different amounts."

FOX 10 has reached out to Uber about the drivers' concerns, and they responded in a statement that reads:

Uber also says they have roundtable discussions both in Phoenix and nationwide to get driver feedback.

"One of Uber's largest costs is what they pay the drivers, and it's no coincidence they're working on driverless technology along with other companies," said said Simon.

"Yes, we are independent contractors, but we're also human, and we'd like to know why these things are occurring, and why aren't we being paid as fairly," said one of the drivers.

"I'm so grateful that my parents would never take an Uber," said another one of the drivers. "I'd lose my mind if they were overcharged and the way they're treated.. it's a nightmare. These are people."

This issue has been brought up nationwide. A class action lawsuit was filed against Uber over upfront pricing in New York City, alleging the company skimmed more than $7 million from customers in that city alone.