Do you know your Uber rating? Trust me, you don’t want to.
Ever since I discovered there was a place — nestled deep within the ride-sharing app, in an FAQ on a submenu’s submenu — where this ominous magic number lives, taking Uber has been ruined.
On Uber, an app that works like a virtual taxi dispatch connecting passengers with drivers in their personal vehicles, passengers typically give out anywhere from one to five stars to their drivers at the end of each trip. The average score keeps drivers accountable with the company.
But at the same time we passengers are judging our drivers based on the cleanliness of their vehicles, how long they took to pick us up and whether they took a bad route, they’re judging us, too.
Uber doesn’t make it easy to see our ratings as passengers, and there’s a good reason why, I’ve discovered: Like the taste of the forbidden apple, our ratings cannot be unknown.
I first glimpsed my rating this summer (thanks to Jen Doll’s hilarious essay) only to discover, tragically, that it was low. It may not sound bad to the casual observer — 4.45 out of 5 — but in a hurried world where most people, drivers and passengers alike, simply dole out 5 stars for everything just to move on to the next ride, a 4.45 carries a certain stigma. Namely, that a lot of drivers took a moment to register what a lousy time they’d had with me in their back seat.
I’ve had drivers tell me they don’t usually accept a passenger with anything less than 4.5 stars. Others say they will go down to 4.0 before rejecting a ride. But everyone I spoke to agreed, 4.45 is not good. On a 100-point scale between 4 and 5, it’s a failing grade.
One of my friends drives Uber, and he told me he gives a 5 to everyone unless they say something racist or offensive, or spill their food all over — and even then, he’ll only dock them a star if he remembers to do it. In other words, it takes some effort to lose a star.
I became obsessed with my score, rechecking after every ride, only to see it hold steady, and once, go down even lower. Meanwhile, I tried to make sense of this judgment on my existence. I’m neat and quiet, I don’t smell or eat in the car, I haven’t spilled anything or tracked in mud. So why don’t my drivers like me?
I asked Bradley, the driver of a Mazda 5, on a late trip home from a birthday party at Dulono’s. Like a model passenger, I was waiting outside for him when he pulled up. After a minute of pleasantries, I got down to business. What did he think of my score?
“It’s low,” he confirmed.
But I seemed like a nice enough person, right? What would I have to do to lose a star?
“Not talk?” he hypothesized.
So it wasn’t about making my driver wait for me to get into the car, or giving bad directions, or even body odor. Apparently, I’m just rude.
I came of age taking yellow cabs in New York City, where drivers and I were kept at a distance by a plastic barrier and the white noise of Taxi TV and whoever they were talking to in their Bluetooths. Maybe once a year, I’d have an amazing conversation with a driver about where they were from or passenger horror stories or whether they really had to pee in a bottle because they couldn’t afford to take a bathroom break. But those moments were rare and fleeting, a unicorn in a field of sunflower-colored sedans.
Taking a taxi was also a luxury, a pricey but often quicker — and air-conditioned — alternative to the subway. When I indulged, it was my chance to sit back, tune out, play a few rounds of Candy Crush and be alone with my thoughts.
Uber wasn’t in New York City when I left in 2012, but I’ve used it there since, and it basically operates just like a cab or a town car. The transaction is still anonymous.
In Minnesota, it’s clearer that these aren’t professional drivers, but folks who often have other jobs and are just trying to make a few bucks in the burgeoning “gig economy” by opening up their personal vehicles to strangers. And maybe they want to talk while they do it.
I get it. But to be perfectly honest, I just wanted to play on my phone. Was my aversion to chitchat offensive to my Minnesota drivers’ standards of politeness?
My driver friend, who’s also from the East Coast, tells me he only engages in conversation if the passenger initiates it.
“I have the same spiel I give to every person,” he said. “It’s so mind-numbing. None of these conversations are real. Ninety-eight percent of it is ‘How are you?’ ‘That’s cool.’ ”
But he’s concerned, too, that he’s not talking enough with his riders; he’s been getting a few 4’s lately.
Lately, I’ve gone out of my way to make cheerful small talk. I’ve had more discussions about construction than I thought possible. I’ve googled factoids and looked up the weather report for my drivers. I end every trip by proclaiming, “This has been a five-star ride!”
Once in a while, I’ll have one of those unicorn conversations, too. In the course of 10 minutes, my driver and I have shared our life stories and hopes and dreams, and came one notch closer to connecting with another human on this vast planet.
I may have fallen behind on Candy Crush, but my Uber rating is now up to a 4.49.
And in case you’re wondering, here’s how to see your Uber rating:
In the Uber app, click the sidebar menu and click Help. Click Account and Payment, then Account Settings & Ratings, then “I’d like to know my rating.” This next screen gives you a chance to turn back. Click the big “Submit” button and your score will pop up. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.