It’s Almost Christmas. Should You Tip Your Uber Driver?

Uber claims there's "no need to tip." But for the first time, in the glow of South Philly Christmas lights, I wasn’t so sure.

I like to consider myself a pretty good tipper.

Then again, I suspect tipping is like sex and dancing — everyone walks through this world thinking they’re bringing something special to the table, when in reality they’re just not screwing it up royally enough to be publicly shamed.

So perhaps I’m an average tipper with the occasional flash of inspiration given the right lighting. Either way, I know how things work.

As a follower of the golden rule (“Tip everyone who could poison you or make you ugly”), I never leave a restaurant, bar stool or salon chair without handing over at least 20 percent. I understand that a delivery charge isn’t a tip, just as I understand that my dog groomer risked her life to tie that cute little ribbon around Murph’s neck. Around the holidays, I add a little extra across the board and leave a card for the mail carrier like a good Northeast girl.

And yet, I didn’t tip my Uber driver the other night. He was probably the most pleasant person I had interacted with all day, his car was immaculate, and he waited for me to get in the door before waving and driving off. Short of calling my mom, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Why yes, it did feel weird.

I’ve been using the service regularly for a couple months without thinking twice, but this time, for the first time, in the glow of South Philly Christmas lights, I wasn’t so sure about Uber’s official party line, the one that makes the service so attractive in a near-cashless society: “You don’t need cash when you ride with Uber. Once you arrive at your destination, your fare is automatically charged to your credit card on file — there’s no need to tip.”

Which is, of course, simply stating the obvious. By the very definition of tipping, there’s never a need to tip. Tipping is like washing your hands after using a public restroom: You certainly don’t have to, and there are some valid arguments against it, but regardless, not doing so makes you gross. While you may find some sympathizers, Mr. The-Sink-Has-More-Germs, the rest of us are judging you, especially in Philadelphia. For all of our shortcomings, we know how to tip in this town.

A quick survey of acquaintances who drive for Uber confirmed what more thoughtful people have probably known all along. No, the tip isn’t included. Yes, duh, a tip is appreciated. No, the vast majority of riders don’t tip, even though they wouldn’t get out of a traditional yellow cab without adding a couple bucks to the fare.

Lyft, one of many Uber-like services cropping up, has already addressed the issue and added an option to tip, cashless, via their app. The obvious solution is to simply switch to Lyft, but depending where you are in the city, the coverage isn’t nearly as good as Uber’s. And the cynic in me thinks that it never will be for the same reason that Uber will probably never offer the option on its own app: Cheaper wins, every time, and most of us don’t want to read the fine print when we’re getting a deal.

Tip or no tip, a truly socially conscious person probably wouldn’t use Uber at all. As has been reported in Philadelphia and elsewhere, its crafty little business model is actually pretty traditional at heart: A handful of people at the top get extremely rich while everyone else gets moderately screwed. And come spring — once it’s comfortable to do so, and after I tip the neighborhood kids who dig my own car out from under the last of the snow — I fully intend to look at my Uber habit.

But for now, I’m going to take an old-school, unplugged cue from my grandfather and make sure I have cash on hand to tip my Uber driver and everyone else who makes life in this city a little more comfortable, a little more pleasant. Because really, only in Europe and New York is not tipping acceptable — and who wants to live there?

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