This is one of those questions that doesn’t have a simple answer, in part because you may not know who to ask.
The driver has a vested personal interest (and bias), your friends and associates may not have much experience, or they might even think you are a cheapskate just for bringing it up?
Most people just seem to wing it or err on the side of caution and offer the “just do it” tip without really knowing what is the right thing to do!
It’s no wonder people are confused. Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare companies have been around for a very short time compared to other services like restaurant servers, hairdressers, and bellhops. On top of that, the rideshare industry has promoted itself from the beginning as a “cashless” alternative to other transportation for hire options.
The short answer is yes you do.
You should always tip people in any service industry and rideshare drivers are no exception. Uber and Lyft have made it easy to add a tip right through your smartphone app. This still allows for a cashless transaction while maintaining proper etiquette. A standard baseline tip amount is $1 to $2 for short rides and 15 – 20 percent for longer rides, with an emphasis on those occasions when a driver goes above and beyond to provide great service.
This may seem a little over the top and expensive but consider other services where tipping is customary.
A food server generally receives 15 – 20 percent, a bartender usually gets tipped 20 percent or higher for simply mixing a drink or opening a beer. The list is extensive: valet drivers, traditional taxi drivers, massage therapists, hairdressers, bellhops, concierges, and tour guides. Uber & Lyft drivers are much the same, except they have your safety in their hands and they use their own personal vehicles to perform the service they offer!
Things to consider when tipping:
Loading and unloading luggage during an airport trip?
If you have ever taken an airport shuttle from a parking area to the main terminal you have probably tipped the shuttle driver for hoisting your bags in and out of the shuttle for you. It’s the same principle when it comes to rideshare.
If the driver simply pops the trunk and stays in their car they are telling you tipping is not required! If on the other hand they pop the trunk and jump out to load your bags with care, it’s time to show some appreciation for the effort.
My personal experience with this as a driver has varied. I always pop the trunk and jump out to load the luggage. I try to provide the service I hope my wife or daughter would receive.
Sometimes the passenger just has one fairly small bag so I don’t feel it’s a big deal and I don’t feel it warrants a large tip. Other times a passenger may have kids with them and several large bags so it becomes a real challenge to fit as much in my trunk as possible and then maybe have to load up an empty seat as well. In this case, I feel a larger tip is in order since, in reality, the passenger should have ordered a larger vehicle and more expensive service.
The worst example to date was when I picked up two women at the airport coming home from a Las Vegas trip with multiple bags each. They put in 2 stops so I could drop the first woman at her house, and then take the second woman home as well. I provided great service every step of the way. I loaded and unloaded the bags, made sure to offer their bags with the handles properly extended, and I had an engaging conversation with both of them. The second passenger who had ordered the trip even mentioned that she would “tip me in the app,” but then didn’t follow through.
Hopefully, she just forgot or ran into a glitch working with her app because I would hate to think she went out of her way to tell me a white lie about the tip.
Did your driver help you with your groceries?
Many people these days take a public bus to the grocery store and then a Lyft or Uber on their way home. This way they don’t have to manage a bus ride loaded down with their groceries.
If your driver shows attentiveness by pulling up to a good loading zone and helping you load your groceries in their trunk and then they provide similar service at your home, you should tip them well to show your appreciation.
This is another situation where I like to go above and beyond. Personally, grocery shopping is a chore that I don’t enjoy much at all. You have to deal with crowded isles and other shoppers who always seem to be trying to set up roadblocks in your way when you just want to get your shopping done and go!
I always have empathy for someone who has just gone through the “hunting & gathering” experience and now just wants to get home with their bounty! I try to pull up as close as possible and put my hazard lights on so people know I’m going to be a minute. Then I carefully help load the groceries into my trunk to make sure the eggs and bread get home safely!
Then I try to chat up the passenger and lighten their mood to help them get over what for some has been a traumatic shopping experience.
I make sure to get the trunk open and help them unload as much as possible. In one case, the woman called her son on her phone as we arrived so he could come out and help. The lady commented that her teen son was not the fastest so I made sure to let her know she could just sit in my car where it was warm until he got out to the car.
In another instance, there were a whole lot of groceries and the husband and son came out to help. I actually helped carry groceries into their house with them because I figured it was both the right thing to do and it would speed up the process.
Did you bring a pet along for your ride?
This is really a special case. First, you should call or text the driver once your ride is accepted just to make sure it’s OK with the driver to bring a pet. Many drivers are reluctant to have pets in their privately owned vehicle so it is truly above and beyond when they approve it. It’s a great idea to reward this behavior and it shows the driver that it’s worth the risk. You can read my other related article on the subject of pets here.
Does your driver keep his or her car exceptionally clean?
This is a great behavior that should be rewarded! You will have an opportunity to comment on this during the review process after the ride is over but a little extra tip is an even better option.
When you drive for a rideshare company it can be difficult to keep your car clean. If you don’t make it a priority, things can get out of hand fairly quickly. Simple things like fingerprints on the windows, candy wrappers or other trash can build up if you don’t stay on top of it.
Also, during inclement weather, you may have to deal with mud or water on the mats and carpets. These things all seem easily manageable to someone who drives their own vehicle but for a rideshare driver who takes passengers one after another, it’s really quite a challenge. Some days you literally have to take yourself “off-line” for a clean-up period.
Prepared drivers will have a cleaning kit ready to go in their trunk with window cleaner, towels to wipe down seats and carpets, and a car vacuum at the ready when mud, dirt, or dog hair need to be tackled.
You never know if the next person is just taking a ride for a workout at the gym or if they will be dressed to the 9’s on their way to an important business meeting or another event.
A clean car with a fresh scent is a true sign of professionalism and should be rewarded!
Does your driver respect you and seem like a nice person?
What I’m getting at here is proper situational engagement. There may be days when you just want to get from point A to point B without much talking. In that case, a good driver should be able to read the tea leaves and provide quiet, respectful service.
Most of the time you might want the driver to show a little more personality. There is no reason that a local driver shouldn’t point out popular attractions, or be ready with a recommendation about a good restaurant or club, or whatever you might have a question about.
If the driver is able to offer you a genuine personality and brighten your day a bit, it’s great to enhance their day as well with a tip that shows them people appreciate their effort.
Is your pick-up or drop-off location in a remote or rural area?
Most people don’t realize that Uber and Lyft drivers only get paid when they have a passenger in their car. There is no hourly wage. In some rare instances, they might get paid a “long pick-up” fee but even that is deducted from the overall fare.
For this reason, many experienced drivers will decline a passenger if the pick-up distance is more than 10 or 15 minutes away. This is pure economics and self-preservation for a full-time driver who needs to maximize their earnings for every hour spent behind the wheel.
In some cases, if there is enough demand a driver will pick up a long ride request because they know they can get a paying passenger that will bring them back to a busy area. In the case of a long trip to a rural area though, it is pretty much a one-way fare. A great tipping passenger can make up for this problem and from my experience, the regular passengers who know about this issue come through most of the time!
Did your driver go out of their way or help you out?
Many times a passenger will realize they are hungry or that they won’t have an opportunity to get food once they arrive at their destination. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask the driver if you can add a stop (or have them add it) to get food. Just be mindful of their time when you do this because a driver only gets paid pennies a minute as they wait. If the drive-thru looks clear, go for it, but if it’s backed up maybe offering to run inside to order would make more sense.
If they help you out take note and thank them for it and possibly factor it into your tip equation.
Not so long ago I picked up this young lady at an upscale hotel location. She was visiting the city for the first time. She worked remotely as a software engineer and planned to spend the day at a local coffee shop. All she needed was a quiet place with reliable internet, good coffee, and she was set.
When I looked at the destination she had selected I was skeptical. I asked her how she had found the place and she said it was recommended on Yelp. The problem was that it was in a very rough neighborhood in an industrial part of the city.
I told her about the area and that she may not feel safe there. I added that I could take her somewhere else if she didn’t feel comfortable with the original coffee shop she had requested.
Well, I was keeping an eye on her as we got close to arriving and I could already tell she was not feeling it! We didn’t even turn into the parking lot before she said she was uncomfortable at that location and asked if I knew somewhere better.
It just happened that I had already worked it out. My daughter goes to a college about 10 minutes away from that location and there is an awesome shopping center nearby with a Starbucks, next to a great sushi place, next to about 20 other great restaurants. She could stay there comfortably for days on end!
The young lady was grateful and I felt like I had done my good deed for the day keeping her out of a potentially unsafe environment. Hopefully, any driver would have done the same thing if they were driving my daughter somewhere. As a bonus, she left me an awesome tip!
For better or worse, most service industries structure their compensation by factoring in gratuities. It’s become customary in the United States as well as many other countries and regions around the world. Drivers for rideshare companies are no exception.
It’s easy to tip through the Uber or Lyft apps but it’s also easier to forget or decide to not do it after the face-to-face interaction is over.
Hopefully, your driver has gone above and beyond and left a great impression that will help you remember them when it’s time to review the trip and add the tip!