By Heather Somerville
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Ride-services company Uber Technologies Inc may be required to provide passengers a way to tip their drivers, despite its longstanding resistance, if a plan by New York City's taxi regulator is implemented.
The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission said on Monday that it plans to propose a rule no later than July that would require all for-hire vehicles to allow passengers to tip drivers using the same method they use to pay for the ride. In Uber's case, this would involve adding a tipping feature within the its smartphone app.
The commission said its proposal is a response to driver concerns over falling wages, as Uber has reduced fares in New York City and across the country. Tips could help boost drivers' income.
Uber has said previously it opposed tipping because it was an inconvenience to passengers and slowed the transaction between rider and driver.
"I found myself having to work longer hours away from my family to earn the same money," Luiny Tavares, who has driven for Uber for five years, said on a call with reporters that was organized by the Independent Drivers Guild.
The guild, set up last year to advocate for drivers, started a campaign last summer to pressure Uber to add a tipping feature in its app. Uber was "unable to move on the option," said guild founder Jim Conigliaro, so the guild brought the issue to the taxi commission.
Any tipping proposal faces a protracted process before it becomes a rule Uber must follow. The taxi commission has the authority to initiate rulemaking on its own, but rules must be certified by city legal authorities. There is also 30-day public comment period and public hearing, and a board of commissioners votes on the final rule.
"We have not seen the proposal and look forward to reviewing it," said Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang. "Uber is always striving to offer the best earning opportunity for drivers and we are constantly working to improve the driver experience."
Adding a tipping feature to Uber's app would remove one significant difference between Uber and its chief U.S. competitor, Lyft. Lyft has a smaller market share but is the preferred service of many drivers because it allows tipping through the smartphone app. Lyft said in March that its drivers have earned more than $200 million in tips since the company's founding.
(Reporting by Heather Somerville; Editing by Dan Grebler)