UberEats could be underpaying delivery drivers on 21% of trips, according to a programmer who reportedly built a tool that found the app was lowballing the miles that drivers traveled

FILE PHOTO: An Uber Eats food delivery courier closes a bag with an order during a lockdown, imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in central Kiev, Ukraine April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
FILE PHOTO: An Uber Eats food delivery courier closes a bag with an order in central Kiev
  • An Uber Eats delivery worker claimed he collected data showing that the company has been consistently underpaying drivers, Salon reported Thursday.

  • Armin Samii, who is also a computer programmer, built a tool for drivers to track their trips and determine if the company was paying them fairly, and found that Uber wasn't paying them for an average of 1.3 miles driven on 21% of trips, according to Salon.

  • Despite a surge in demand for food delivery during the pandemic, workers have seen their pay decline as out-of-work Americans flood the platforms, forcing earnings to be split between more of them.

  • Even before the pandemic, many ride-hail and delivery drivers reported earning less than minimum wage, and regulators have started cracking down, casting doubt on the sustainability of the gig economy business model.

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A programmer and Uber Eats delivery worker built a tool that he claimed provides evidence that the food delivery service has consistently been underpaying drivers, Salon reported on Thursday.

Armin Samii, a computer scientist who until recently worked at self-driving car company Argo AI and has been working part-time for Uber Eats since leaving, built a Chrome browser extension called "UberCheats" that helps drivers track their trips and pay, and said the initial data showed Uber shorting delivery workers on 25-30% of trips, according to Salon.

Samii told Business Insider that using the most recent data, which spans four days and includes submissions from around 160 Uber Eats drivers and bike delivery couriers, he estimates Uber underpaid workers on 21% of trips (which he defined as the app under-counting workers' mileage by at least half a mile).

Uber Eats drivers and bike couriers, like most food delivery workers, are paid in part on a per-mile basis, and Samii told Business Insider that his data showed them being underpaid by an average of 1.3 miles on those 21% of total trips his tool tracked.

Samii told Salon that after multiple back-and-forths with Uber customer service, they admitted it was a bug and paid him the actual wage he was owed, but that based on the data he collected: "this is pretty widespread and pretty egregious. And I don't think Uber has any plans to fix it."

"Just as people ordering food can see how much they will pay in advance, couriers receive an upfront fare based on many factors, one of which is the estimated distance of the most efficient delivery route," an Uber Eats spokesperson told Business Insider. "We understand actual distance traveled may vary from this estimate, but do our best to provide couriers with full information, such as the pickup and dropoff location along with the fare before they choose to accept."

The Uber Eats spokesperson also said that in an update in late 2019, the app began displaying a combined pay estimate before drivers and couriers accept orders that combines pick-up and drop-off rates, estimates of how long it will take them to complete the order, and how far they'll likely travel.

Food delivery, grocery delivery, and ride-hail apps are notorious for using opaque and constantly evolving algorithms to determine workers' pay, leading many to claim that they're making below minimum wage and are heavily dependent on tips — even before the pandemic hit.

This also isn't the first time delivery workers have complained about Uber Eats' pay structure. Last fall, Uber introduced a change that they said resulted in a pay reduction by goading them into taking less profitable trips.

During the pandemic, some delivery workers say their wages have been compressed even further. As millions of out-of-work Americans turn to food delivery and grocery apps (Uber said its food delivery business outpaced ride-hailing for the first time and Instacart said it brought on 750,000 new shoppers), the pie is being split among more people. At the same time, workers are braving significant health risks as essential workers without access to healthcare, sick pay, or paid time off.

That stems from their status as independent contractors instead of employees, which is the topic of a major legal and political battle between Uber, Lyft, several food delivery companies and state regulators. A court ruled last week that Uber and Lyft drivers are employees under the state's gig work law, AB-5, but temporarily delayed the order Thursday while companies appeal the ruling, after both threatened to suspend service in the state.

Read the original article on Business Insider