It could not be any easier to tip a Lyft or Uber driver. The ride-hailing apps automatically prompt riders at the end of a ride with a tipping option. All you have to do is click on the amount you choose to tip, and you’re done. And yet 60 percent of Uber riders never tip, and only 1 percent of Uber riders always tip, according to a new study published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Researchers collected data from 40 million Uber rides between June 20, 2017, and July 17, 2017 (when Uber first introduced the option to tip via the app), and they found that tipping behavior varies quite a bit.
For example, tips are bigger in smaller cities than in big cities, and tips tend to be highest for trips to the airport and when riders are on business trips. Male riders tip 23 percent more in amount than female riders and 19 percent more often. But female drivers actually receive more tips than male drivers, regardless of the riders’ gender.
In terms of the amount people tip, it’s not much according to a survey of drivers conducted last year by the driver resource site Ridester.com. The survey found that the median tipping percentage was just 7.19 percent of the total ride amount.
That’s despite the fact that tipping a driver is considered to be standard etiquette. In its tipping guide, Consumer Reports recommends tipping taxi, limousine, or ride-hailing service drivers between 10 and 20 percent of fare.
So why do riders opt out?
“A lot of riders don’t understand that Uber and Lyft take such a big cut of driver wages—Uber and Lyft take up to 45 percent of the ride fare,” said Brett Helling, founder of Ridester and of gig economy site Gigworker.com. Helling has also been an Uber driver in Omaha, Nebraska, for several years.
Another factor, he said, is that apps like Lyft and Uber are so convenient that riders simply forget to add a tip. He has observed that it’s not uncommon for riders to arrive at their destination and then rush out of the car, quickly forgetting about the ride.
Katie Galeotti, AFAR’s director of marketing and special projects, admitted that she often doesn’t tip her Uber or Lyft drivers. But, she noted, “If service is exemplary and the driver helps me with luggage, or waits for me if I am running late, or is just a generally fun ride, I do tip. But if we’re sitting in silence and I’m paying a premium, and the driver still expects a tip, I have to put my foot down somewhere.”
According to Helling, tipping based on the level of service, wherever you are getting a ride in the world, is actually a good best practice to follow.
“If you take 10 separate one-mile rides, you don’t have to give a dollar on every one,” he said. “But if one of them went above and beyond to make your ride good and was really nice, I think you should tip that person more than somebody that didn’t do those things.”
His hope is that ultimately riders and drivers simply remember that the encounter is more than just a commoditized transaction. Even if it’s a short ride, it’s a brief engagement of two people, and if it’s a pleasant one, a tip is one way to communicate that and make the whole experience a little more human.