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Technology | How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons

The company has undertaken an extraordinary experiment in behavioral science to subtly entice an independent work force to maximize its growth.

By NOAM SCHEIBER and graphics by JON HUANG

The secretive ride-hailing giant Uber rarely discusses internal matters in public. But in March, facing crises on multiple fronts, top officials convened a call for reporters to insist that Uber was changing its culture and would no longer tolerate “brilliant jerks.”

Notably, the company also announced that it would fix its troubled relationship with drivers, who have complained for years about falling pay and arbitrary treatment.

“We’ve underinvested in the driver experience,” a senior official said. “We are now re-examining everything we do in order to rebuild that love.”

And yet even as Uber talks up its determination to treat drivers more humanely, it is engaged in an extraordinary behind-the-scenes experiment in behavioral science to manipulate them in the service of its corporate growth — an effort whose dimensions became evident in interviews with several dozen current and former Uber officials, drivers and social scientists, as well as a review of behavioral research.

Uber’s innovations reflect the changing ways companies are managing workers amid the rise of the freelance-based “gig economy.” Its drivers are officially independent business owners rather than traditional employees with set schedules. This allows Uber to minimize labor costs, but means it cannot compel drivers to show up at a specific place and time. And this lack of control can wreak havoc on a service whose goal is to seamlessly transport passengers whenever and wherever they want.

Uber helps solve this fundamental problem by using psychological inducements and other techniques unearthed by social science to influence when, where and how long drivers work. It’s a quest for a perfectly efficient system: a balance between rider demand and driver supply at the lowest cost to passengers and the company.

Employing hundreds of social scientists and data scientists, Uber has experimented with video game techniques, graphics and noncash rewards of little value that can prod drivers into working longer and harder — and sometimes at hours and locations that are less lucrative for them.

Change the number of drivers in this ride-share simulation. Faster pickup times for riders require a greater percentage of drivers to be idling unpaid.

To keep drivers on the road, the company has exploited some people’s tendency to set earnings goals — alerting them that they are ever so close to hitting a precious target when they try to log off. It has even concocted an algorithm similar to a Netflix feature that automatically loads the next program, which many experts believe encourages binge-watching. In Uber’s case, this means sending drivers their next fare opportunity before their current ride is even over.

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Facing a crisis of affordability, officials are trying to reduce real estate demand through a package of tax measures, some aimed at foreign buyers.

Condominium towers in Vancouver, British Columbia, where housing costs are up by about 60 percent over the past three years. About a fifth of local homeowners in a survey said they’d like to see prices fall by 30 percent or more. Credit Alana Paterson for The New York Times

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Between multimillion-dollar tear-downs , blocks full of backyard cottages and towering condominiums that are sold and resold several times before they are even built, there is no shortage of anecdotes about this city’s housing frenzy.

Here is a new one: Vancouver is so expensive that politicians want to tax its real estate market into submission, and many homeowners — who will lose money if home prices fall — think it’s the best idea they’ve heard in years.

“I would like to see a correction to sober up this whole place,” said Rob Welsh, a retired airplane mechanic who lives in a Vancouver suburb. Mr. Welsh bought his house in 2000 and has become a paper millionaire based on its appreciation. It makes him more anxious than happy.

“If I got to lose 200 or 300 grand to keep the kids and the future of this place, so be it,” he said.

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Schoop is completely fine medically, Showalter said, though he did have a stiff neck when attempting to break a bat over his neck on Friday.

Tillman to start at Triple-A Chris Tillman took another step in his recovery process Saturday, getting the start for Triple-A Norfolk.

It was Tillman's third rehab start in the Minors as he works his way back from a back injury he sustained in early May. He went 3 2/3 innings Saturday, giving up eight hits, five runs and three walks while striking out a pair.

Over a start each with Class A Short-Season Aberdeen and Class A Delmarva, Tillman had gone 5 1/3 innings with five earned runs, six hits, three walks and four strikeouts before Saturday.

"This is about getting people out at a level that he should be getting people out if he's coming back here," Showalter said. " … I'd really like to see him have one or two quality starts down there and really pitch like a guy who's better than that level."

is a reporter for MLB.com based in Baltimore.

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Darren O'Day, Jonathan Schoop, Chris Tillman
Jones' run-scoring single in 9th breaks up shutout in opener
By Brittany Ghiroli MLB.com @Britt_Ghiroli
Jun. 29th, 2018

BALTIMORE -- You can twist it, turn it, analyze small pieces of the Orioles' season or the entire 81 games already in the books. You can, they say, make statistics say anything you want. Except these numbers, this offense, there is no other way to spin it. Baltimore's lineup continues to be an issue, a baffling, serious problem that has plagued the club since Opening Day.

Yes, the Orioles' defensive shortcomings came into play in Friday night's 7-1 loss to the Angels. And rookie VIDA Short Pendant Emergence by VIDA 5fIhhij7
, who has been on a slide after a fantastic first month in May, did little to quell concern. But for the 34th time this season -- nearly half of their games played -- the O's scored two or fewer runs. Twenty two of those times, like Friday night, they were held to one or fewer. Halos starter Felix Pena -- the club's 11th starter this season -- flummoxed the O's over 5 1/3 innings in his first road start.

View Full Game Coverage

"It's frustrating," manager Buck Showalter said of the lack of offensive production. "I'm not going to get into strike zones and stuff, especially in our situation. It's not attractive, blaming things on umpires.

Video: [email protected]: Showalter on the pitching struggles in loss

"I'd like to see us do better. ... It's the story again, we scored one run and nothing through eight innings. You're not going to win that way."

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