Can Drivers Charge a Passenger For Return Miles?

Have you ever accepted a ride, only to find out it was taking you way out in the middle of nowhere where you wouldn’t be able to get a request back? Well, you’re not alone, and lately, I’ve been hearing about a strategy where drivers have devised a way to charge riders for those return trip or “deadhead” miles, as some people call them.

This video & article are about a strategy of charging passengers for a return trip, what Uber and Lyft think about it, and really whether it’s ethical or not, because I think this may be a little bit of a controversial topic.

Take a look at my video, or scroll to the video transcript if you prefer to read.

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Return miles with no fare, aka deadhead miles, are a problem

First, thank you to one of my viewers, Ed, for bringing this to my attention. This actually happens to him frequently since he lives in a border city between the states. Basically, whenever he gets a drop off across state lines, the Uber app will not allow him to pick up riders since he’s now in another state. He has to drive back empty all the way to his state where he can get rides again, which as you can imagine is pretty frustrating. It also just costs him money, because those are a lot of unpaid miles.

Now, I could also see this happening to drivers who pick up passengers, say in a busy part of the city, but the passenger destination is way out there in the suburbs where there are fewer or maybe even no ride requests back to the action where you can get requests. Of course, who wants to drive back without a passenger in the car? You’re obviously wasting gas, and you want to try to avoid that if at all possible.

How can you charge riders for your return trip?

How would this work logistically on the app? Well, it’s pretty simple, and of course, let me preface this with you should never do this without your passenger consent, and sometimes, even if you have your passenger consent, it’s still a little bit of a controversial strategy. There’s a bit of debate whether you should even do it with their permission.

Here’s the method: Let’s say you’ve got the passenger in the car when you arrive to the passengers final destination. All you need to do is just not end the trip. Drop them off, keep the trip running, and then drive back. Basically, you’ll get paid time and distance regardless of the destination they’d put in.

Driver’s always get paid time and distance. It doesn’t matter what the destination says on the apps. You always get the exact time and mileage. Let me iterate that. Now, the passengers fare in this case should automatically update, because the app will detect that this was more than just kind of a minor, out of the way thing. You’re going all the way back, and it’ll charge them accordingly. Now, when you get back to the city or whatever point you predetermine, you’ll end their ride there, and now you’ve effective gotten paid for dropping them off and coming all the way back.

Some drivers make a text message agreement with passengers to charge them for return miles

I’ve talked to some drivers who will send their passengers an agreement basically over text ahead of time that informs the passenger, “Hey, you’re going to be charged a return time and distance for a faraway ride,” and they make the passenger text back saying, “Okay, take a quick screenshot of it.” And this is essentially getting their permission, so that if they complain later on, you have proof that they agreed to it.

Does Uber allow or forbid this method?

But what good is proof if Uber says it’s not okay? What is Uber’s policy on this?¬†Well, I read through Uber’s deactivation policy, which is available online, and as you might imagine, this situation was not in there. I also Tweeted them and sent them a message, and as you probably wouldn’t be surprised, they responded with an answer that literally was not even what I was asking. It was about a completely different situation, so that wasn’t much help.

I did stop by an in-person support center the other day though, and I was getting another issue handled, and while I was there, I asked a rep about this exact situation, and she was super confused by my question. Basically, though, she did say you probably shouldn’t be doing that.

Uber doesn’t have any clear policy on this tactic

I don’t think she knew what I was talking about really, but she did say, once I explained to her, “Oh, that doesn’t sound like something you should be doing.” I still feel like there’s no clear policy on this situation. So I mean if getting deactivated would be a financial disaster for you, do not do this, right, because it is definitely in that gray area. But I see the appeal of the strategy. I’m just like the next guy or girl trying to maximize my efficiency.

Driver’s don’t know the destination ahead of time on Uber obviously until you swipe to start to the trip. So really at that point, you could ask the rider about charging them for the return time or distance, but my guess is that most passengers would say, “I’ve never been asked that,” and they’re probably going to be pissed or say no.

How to explain this tactic to passengers and deal with potential reactions

And so that means you’re going to have to cancel on that ride if you don’t want to do it, or you’re going to have to do the ride and just drive back empty. I kind of suspect that you’d really have to explain to passengers why you need to charge for return miles, or maybe you can even just ask them if you can charge for return miles and see what they say.

You want to explain the situation to them and say, “When I go and drop you off here, unfortunately, I don’t get pay. I won’t be able to get any rides back, and it’s going to cost me about 30 minutes of time, and that usually costs me about 15 bucks an hour. If I give you a ride all the way back, it’s going to be about four miles, and it would be good to have an estimate.” You can use an estimate site like is a good estimate site, and you know, basically kind of figure out what it’s going to cost them for that return trip, but give them a number, and so then that way, you’re sort of telling them and explaining the situation to them. Not just trying to say, “Hey, I want more money,” because people will say they’ll give you a tip. Obviously that’ll never happen.

It’s not a strategy that I will personally use

You can say that you’ll want to give a ride back and you’ll lose money or whatever the case might be. You have to be convincing. Probably a lot more convincing than me. Ultimately, I think this is one of those what we’ll call, “very creative strategies,” and while I’m tempted to do it, I definitely know that I wouldn’t do it beforehand. I’m not going to be asking the passengers where they go or anything like that.

Personally, it’s not something I’ll be doing in the future, so I’m curious to hear from you guys now. What do you think of this strategy of basically asking passengers if you can charge them for the return trip or deadhead miles in situations where you wouldn’t be able to get a ride? Do you think that’s okay? Do you think this is something you’ll be doing? Do you think drivers should or shouldn’t be doing this?

I’d love to hear from you. I’m going to read all the comments and do my best to respond to each and every single one that is a question. Drive safe everyone!


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