How Does Uber Work?

Natalie Thomas
A young woman and a young man sitting in the backseat of an Uber vehicle.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Perhaps a better question is: how is Uber different than a taxi? The concept of a ride-hailing service is nothing new; taxi services (though not necessarily by that name) have been around for centuries. The differences primarily deal with Uber’s range of options and services, as well as the fact that Uber rides are ordered through an app.

Uber App

All of Uber’s ride-sharing business is done through the Uber app. Users must have access to the Uber app in order to request a ride.

Making an Uber Account

The process is simple: download the Uber app, press the Uber icon on the home screen, and follow the setup instructions. If you have previously set up an account, there is a “sign-in” option; if not, you will want to choose the “register” option. If you choose “register,” the app will display fields for the required information: name, address, contact information, and credit card number.


Transactions for Uber are often carried out using uploaded credit or debit card information. This digital wallet is referred to as Uber Cash. Uber also accepts payment through Paypal, Apple/Android Pay, and Venmo.


For the most part, the cost of an Uber is based on distance, just like a taxi. However, Uber also uses surge pricing, which adjusts prices based on supply and demand for drivers, as well as traffic density. The pricing also depends on what options the customer chooses.

Options such as UberX, UberPool, and Uber Black are alternatives to a standard Uber which cost more money. Often the difference is the size and/or quality of the vehicle, but for some options the features are the difference. For example, UberPool allows customers to split the fare to a similar location.

How to Use Uber

Whether someone can use Uber is contingent on whether the service operates in the area, individual ability to download the app, and driver availability. Uber drivers have significant autonomy, which allows them to set their own schedules and even decline some rides — especially on the basis of the estimated duration of a drive, because it can potentially infringe on their ability to be in control of their schedule.

Uber is a popular side hustle due to their flexible hours. It is often not the driver’s primary job. Therefore, for example, although technically the usual cap on an Uber ride is four hours, there may not be drivers available at all times of the day who are willing to make that trip.

Setting a Destination

When you open the app, a prompt will pop up asking for your destination. This can be a physical address, or it can even be a person who you have synced with through the app. You then choose which type of Uber you would like (standard, UberPool, Uber Black, etc.). In most cases, a price estimate will pop up and you will be asked to confirm the order.

Enjoy the Ride

It is pretty easy on the rider’s side to make the trip as pleasant as possible for both themselves and their driver. Because of the relative independence that Uber drivers enjoy, many aspects of the ride are up to their discretion. It is generally considered good etiquette to wait to see if the driver will ask for your input on music, but for something like a route preference, it is fine to broach the subject without prompting.

Other aspects of conscientious Uber use may also be enforced by company policy. For example, it is just generally good manners to be ready to go when your driver arrives, but making the driver wait or cancelling a ride too late may also incur a penalty fee.

Similarly, although Ubers and other driver services are an excellent and responsible choice for someone who is intoxicated, Uber drivers really appreciate people not puking in their car. Company policy also protects drivers on this front by charging fees for things like spilled food/drink and vomiting or bleeding in/on the vehicle.

Rate Your Driver

After the trip, the passenger will be prompted to rate their driver from 1 to 5 stars. This rating can also be adjusted by using the links in the emailed receipt. It is important to note that anything below 5 stars indicates that the driver was sub-par, so it is good etiquette to rate 5 stars unless they did something specific wrong. Something else to keep in mind is that drivers rate passengers as well. Drivers may refuse to pick up a passenger with a poor rating, and passengers with especially bad ratings may even get banned from the app.

Do You Tip Uber Drivers?

Tips can be given to drivers either by offering them physical cash or through an option in the app that follows the prompt to rate the driver (Uber does not charge the driver any fees on in-app tips, according to their website). A tip can also be added through the emailed receipt up to 30 days after the ride. It is polite to tip a driver $1-$2 for a decent, short drive, or 10-20% for a longer drive or exceptional service.

Is Uber Safe?

There have been several reported incidents of drivers assaulting passengers. However, it is not any less safe than using a taxi service. In fact, Uber has implemented several measures to protect passengers and drivers, such as mandatory background checks for drivers and GPS tracking on all rides. Uber always knows the location of an active driver.

Additionally, a new feature called “Share My Ride” has been released in several cities. This allows select contacts to have access to information about the driver and car, updates on the location of the car as the ride is in progress, and the time arrived at the destination. Uber is relatively safe, all things considered — but whether or not it is cost-effective is another story.

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