An Uber driver in Sydney talks about his experiences on the road, often with unintelligible rambling.
Author: Adam Faber
I've been an Uber driver in Sydney since early 2016, and puttering around on the web as my blogging alter-ego since mid 2017. Uber-Man is my second attempt at blogging, after a short-lived effort five years before about a previous job, all around parking. (Exciting, I know!) If the blogging wasn't a give away, I'm a nerd that loves sci-fi, table top gaming, and baseball.
Getting an Uber is easy. So easy that its not really possible to make it easier. So why skip the part that keeps the whole thing going?
When you look at it from a distance, Uber is a simple system. As a driver, when you’re ready to start taking rides you open the app, switch it on and wait for the requests to come. As a passenger, when you’re ready to take a ride you open the app, set a destination and wait for the car to arrive. The reality is a lot more complicated than that, but the system helps to obfuscate the details and keep things simple.
Passengers will have a chat with me sometimes about their experience with Uber, often as it compares to taxis, and a common thread that comes up is the sense of safety they have when using Uber. The ability to track the car on its way to the pickup location, and to share your location and ETA with others once you’re on your way. If something does happen on the ride, or if the passenger leaves something behind, the driver and car can be matched with the ride.
That safety goes both ways. Just as passengers enjoy protections by using the Uber platform, drivers also have security. We don’t have to worry about carrying money from fares or for change. If we get into some kind of trouble we’re tracked via GPS, and just like passengers with us, if we have a problem with a passenger they can be tracked down to sort the issue out.
All of this is just one of the reasons why I was surprised when this happened the other day:
After a drop off random stranger wants to know if I'm an Uber. Wants to get in without requesting in app, pay cash. Absolutely not!
After a great chat with a passenger, we’d arrived at the Tempe Ikea to drop them off. I pulled up outside the store’s entrance, we said our farewells, and that seemed to be it. As my passenger was getting out, I happened to see someone standing outside that had “The Look”. I’ve talked about The Look before. For a moment I thought it was my next passenger, but I realised I hadn’t accepted, let alone been offered another ride at that stage. I figured they must be waiting for someone else.
It was a little surprising when my passenger had gotten out of the car but hadn’t closed the door. From what I could tell they seemed to be having a conversation with the woman with The Look. It turned out the woman wanted to know if I was an Uber driver, and wanted a ride. I told my actual passenger they could go if they wanted, and let my prospective passenger know that if they wanted a ride they’d need to request it through the app.
She implied that she’d tried to book through the app, but that it wasn’t working for her. Before I had a chance to do anything, she offered to pay cash for the ride. That set off my spidey-senses. As much as its true, I used the excuse that we Uber drivers aren’t allowed to pick up passengers unless its for a pre-booked ride. I told her that if she requested a ride and it came to me that would be fine, otherwise she’d need to make alternative arrangements. I continued on my way, and got a request soon after
I suspect that if you’re an Uber driver, you understand very well why I didn’t let her get in my car, but that if you’re not you may think I was being silly, unkind, maybe even rude. For one, I checked the passenger app after I got a little distance: it was working fine, even showed my car in the right location as being available. If she was having issues – and actually had an account with Uber – then they were on her end, not with the system itself.
Now I’ve never knowingly been bitten by a radioactive spider, so my spidey-senses are not on the same level as Peter Parker’s. Its entirely possible that my instincts about this woman were way off, that she was legitimately trying to get home (or wherever she was headed) and was having some problems, but something felt off. I get enough weird encounters as it is, without needing to throw in the lack of a safety net to make things any more interesting than they already are. And that’s before I get to the legal issues if it was found out. (Note to self: don’t write about illegal activity online, even on a blog with as limited readership as this one.) Essentially, even without any intentional shenanigans from the would-be passenger, it would definitely not be worth the trouble.
Passengers: don’t ask for a non-booked ride from an Uber driver. If they accept then they’re probably not the sort of driver you want to have taking you where you want to go. Drivers: don’t accept a non-booked ride from a person on the street. Its illegal, potentially dangerous, and not worth the risk.
Something to help both passengers and drivers to get away from the airport quickly, smoothly and a little less painfully. And not just for those using Uber either.
Last month I posted about using Uber in relation to the domestic terminal at Sydney Airport. One of the things I wrote about was that when requesting an Uber pick up from the terminal, to go to the priority pick-up area. There is a detail that I left out that in my head was obvious to everyone, but apparently not. It’s to do with where people stand when waiting for their ride, and where they actually get into the car that’s picking them up.
I think the issue comes at least in part from the nature of the pick-up area itself. To the best of my knowledge, its an area that’s been converted and adapted from some other use, rather than it being something that was there from the beginning in the design of the domestic airport. Anyone who’s at all familiar with the layout of the domestic airport knows that its two separate terminal buildings on either side of an elongated loop of road, with a number of car parking areas inside the loop which also double as space for car rental agencies. An area in the middle of these car parks has been carved out for the priority pick-up area.
The passengers looking to be picked up in this area cross the road from the terminal building their plane pulled up from, and follow the signs along an above ground tunnel to the area itself, and here is where the problem lies. Essentially in the middle of the pick-up area is a utility building of some kind. I don’t know what its for, though it being connected in some way to the underground train station for the domestic terminal wouldn’t surprise me, because the non-airport entrance/exit to the station is only a very short distance a way. The issue is that the main waiting area for passengers in the pick-up area is on the other side of this building from where passengers arrive. There’s also what could appear to be a waiting area for passengers on the “near”-side of the utility building.
All of that means that – especially for people who are new to the city, new to the airport, new to using Uber from the airport, or are just not used to the system don’t know to keep walking to the other side of the building, especially if there are a few people already standing around. Not only does it make it harder for the passengers to see the car their looking for because they can only spot it as the car rounds the corner about 10 metres away, but it tends to block up the single lane of cars trying to move between the utility building and the edge of the pick-up area.
Anyone who drives knows that seeing a group of people standing on the footpath right next to a pedestrian crossing is problematic, because you can’t be sure whether any of those people – or the ones you might not be able to see on the other side of the group – are actually trying to cross the road or not. In this case, the car’s probably already going slowly so that’s not too big an issue here, but having to slow down or stop because of the people crossing means that at least some passengers waiting in this spot see their ride essentially stop in front of them, and decide that they should get in the car while they can. If its just one or two people getting in, with no luggage or at least nothing that needs to go in the boot, that can be done often be done with little or no impact on the flow of cars. But if there’s several passengers, a number of bags for the boot, or even just passengers that aren’t being as quick as they can to get in the car, it can cause the cars behind to come to a stop, causing a knock on effect back up the chain. At some times of day that can cause big issues for a lot of other people.
This same effect can happen near the car entrance to the pick-up area. It’s especially likely if there’s already a bit of a hold up to the flow of traffic, which may be coming from the issue I just mentioned. If the drivers and passengers involved are paying attention the effect can at least be minimised as there’s more space for other cars to go around the stopped car in the pick-up, but it can still result in the entrance to the car park being blocked off, again causing a queue of cars to form over quite a distance at the wrong time of day.
In an ideal world, passengers would wait near the car entrance, paying attention so that they can spot the car that’s picking them up as early as possible. They’d then wave or otherwise signal to their car – generally speaking this area is for professional pick-ups, so the driver won’t likely know what their passenger looks like. When this works, IO then signal to my passenger where I’m going to stop to let them in, usually with just a simple point to the direction I’m headed. In my head it doesn’t just let them know where to walk to, but also an acknowledgment that I’ve seen them (if I haven’t already done that) so they don’t think I’m either not paying attention, partially blind, or just being rude and ignoring them. The key element of this though is that they wait for me to pull up in a parking spot – or at least somewhere as out of the way as possible depending on the levels of chaos at the time – rather than trying to get in when I happen to almost stop for some other reason. I can then get out to help them with their luggage if they need it, whether it be hefting their things into the boot, playing Tetris with their bags so they’ll all fit, or just getting the boot open as some people have struggled with the door in the past, possibly thinking I’d locked it or wasn’t remotely opening it for them. (For the record, my current car doesn’t have that feature.)
So please help us drivers – both professional and… Amateur? Recreational? Social? Not sure what they right term is here – to keep things smooth not just for yourself but for everyone in the vicinity. Taking just a few extra steps along the path will help everyone, and the happier your driver is, the less likely any little jiggly things will seem big enough to rate you less than 5-stars.
A not-at-all in-depth comparison of the costs of travelling from the Sydney Airport via train versus via Uber.
Before I go into today’s article, I want to mention something up front. On Sunday – when this was written – a construction crane collapsed onto an apartment building in Wolli Creek. At the time of writing, three people were reported injured, with the most serious being a possible broken leg. In addition to this, 200 residents of both buildings affected were evacuated. (The building the crane collapsed on, and the building it had been mounted on.) There are two reasons why I mention this up front:
It’s what prompted me to publish this post, even though the incident itself isn’t Uber-related.
I am aware that the people I’m going to refer to here were affected in a comparatively minor way. Obviously those injured and evacuated had and have it much worse.
If it seems like I’m being disrespectful to or dismissive of them, that is definitely not my intention. Except to say that I hope their situation is dealt with quickly, safely and fairly, I won’t be talking any further about them only because they’re not part of a topic relevant to this site.
Sunday mornings can be interesting times to drive with Uber. In fact Sundays tend to be pretty good throughout the day. Whereas on a weekday there’s usually a lull around lunch time, Sunday’s are pretty consistent in terms of being able to find passengers wanting a ride. The usual reason Sunday mornings are interesting is the number of passengers making the “Uber of shame” from the night before.
Last Sunday had a couple of rides that seemed like they could’ve qualified for that, one of which got me close to the airport. Knowing from experience what at least Melbourne and Brisbane Airports are like on Sundays, I figured it wouldn’t take too long for the queue of drivers to cycle through and for me to get a decent fare, so I headed to the domestic terminal waiting area. I wasn’t wrong, though the reason the queue moved as quickly as it did wasn’t one I was expecting.
When I first got to the pick-up area I was surprised by how quiet it looked. Given the speed with which the queue had moved for me I expected there to be quite a few people waiting to be picked up, along with a corresponding number of cars waiting for their passengers to appear. Instead it looked fairly empty. As a drove around the u-shape of the pick-up area, I got to a point where I could see where the passengers would be walking to reach the car park, and the outside entrance to the train station. What I saw there was not dissimilar to this:
As I was processing this I saw someone waving at me who turned out to be my passenger, so I didn’t get much of a chance to sort it out in my head. (I’m sure you already have, but any friends of mine reading this, this is a perfect opportunity for you to make a joke about not being able to sort it out even if I had plenty of time to do it. Your welcome.) They told me that there’d been some sort of incident that meant the Airport train line was closed. Apparently it had only recently happened, with passengers being directed to different places by different people to catch replacement buses that were being organised but hadn’t started to arrive yet.
After I dropped the passenger off, I did some checking and sure enough found this alert:
I continued on through my day, while seeing similar scenes at Sydenham and Mascot stations, with people waiting at bus stops for their replacement bus (or in my case, their Uber) to arrive. When I got home, I saw some tweets that indicated people weren’t happy with how leaving Sydney Airport had gone:
Busses replacing trains, satanic cab queues, an unworkable pick-up system. "Welcome home" brought 2u by the thieves who run @SydneyAirport
What I found interesting and surprising with these and others that I saw, was that the people complaining seemed to be unaware of Uber. Whether they had never heard of it, had the idea that it wasn’t allowed for pick-ups at the airport (it’s been OK for over a year now), thought it was more expensive than using the train, or some other reason I don’t know. (It’s also possible that they reject the idea of using Uber given recent negative press. I would hope that’s not the case, for fairly obvious reasons.)
In terms of cost, I don’t have all the details and though the cost for a train trip is relatively easy to find out ahead of time, the cost of Uber trips are a little more tricky, given that they depend on the specific route and time taken for the trip. What I can do is show you the comparison between trips I’ve actually done and the costs for a trip to the nearest station. Like this:
[table id=1 /]
To keep things above board, the costs for the train trips come from Sydney Trains themselves, and were correct when written. (If poked about it to remind me, I’ll probably update them if prices change while this site is still active.) Any costs relating to getting from the station to the destination would be on top of these. The costs for the Uber fares are using UberX, from real rides I’ve driven since a couple of weeks before the date this is published. They include all costs to the passenger relating to the fare such as tolls, and have the potential to vary a bit based on the time of day the ride took place and the traffic on the route taken.
Also keep in mind that those train trip fares are for one person when an UberX can fit up to four people, though possibly less if you’ve got a lot of luggage, and that the Uber trip is right to your destination, which means unless you live on top of or at a train station you’ll either have less distance to walk with your bags, won’t have to get a bus or other ride from the station to where you’re going, or both.
So it seems that for short trips near the airport, Uber is cheaper than getting the train. It makes sense since the minimum Uber fare in Sydney is $9, less than the airport station access fee. A little beyond that and the train is cheaper for one person, but more expensive for two. Uber trips to the city that have to go through the city (so around the harbour foreshore) tend to be about the same cost as between two or three people on the train. None of the fares I’ve done in the time frame shown have been more expensive than four equivalent train fares.
Generally speaking, getting the train from the airport will be cheaper for one person than getting an Uber. The more people travelling though, the more likely that an Uber will be the cheaper option. But remember:
The train doesn’t get you to your front door, meaning either a walk, bus, taxi, Uber or ride from a friend to get all the way home. An Uber will go all the way in one go.
You may have to wait up to 15 minutes for the train to arrive to pick you up. An Uber will normally take no more than 5 minutes to arrive.
There’s no one to help you with your luggage on the train. Most Uber drivers will at least help you get your luggage into and out of their car.
Unless you happen to be on the airport line, you’ll have to change trains to get to your destination. An Uber will take you door-to-door.
Its tough getting even a section of a train carriage, let alone the whole thing to yourself. That means other people’s conversations, music, food, and general life intruding on your’s. You don’t share an Uber except with your friends or family. Your driver won’t force conversation or weird smells on you and will let you listen to your music in peace.
The closest thing to climate control on a train is being able to open a window, and that’s generally only on the older carriages. You can adjust the windows, adjust the temperature of the AC, even the direction the air vents point in an Uber.
With all those benefits – and any others you might think of – is it worth the money you might save to get the train instead of an Uber? Next time I’m flying somewhere, I know how I’ll be getting to and from the airport…
You know how there’s some things that happen to you that are really just tiny and insignificant, but in the moment feel like the most frustrating thing to ever happen? Uber drivers have those too.
Everyone has something that annoys them all out of proportion to the actual discomfort caused. Its usually something really simple, and probably has little to no actual impact on your day. If you’ve ever got the bottle of milk out of the fridge to find that though not technically empty, its not enough for what you’re wanting it. There’s another full bottle in the fridge, but the tiny amount left is just plain annoying.
Driver’s have their own sets ofannoyances. Though there are a multitude of things that drive people up the wall when their on the roads, there are few that fit in this category. If you’re someone who follows me on Twitter – and let’s face it, if you’re reading this blog then there’s a good chance you follow me on Twitter – you may well have gotten an idea about one such annoyance I deal with:
Like I said, its a problem that’s so small that labelling it as a “first world problem” would massively inflate the scale of it. One response I got to the tweet helped to highlight just how small an issue it is:
Er you don't have window controls for all four windows? How old is your car?
Yes, I have controls for all of the windows on my armrest, so once I realise that a window’s down its extremely, even ridiculously easy for me to put them back up. I know that in days gone by when the driver couldn’t control the position of the windows remotely like that, I’d’ve had some level of justification in my gripe; having to awkwardly reach across the car to reach the controls, or in even earlier days having to move over to that seat to manually roll the window back up.
On the day I’d had two passengers for the one ride, both of whom left their windows down when they got out. They were the prompt for me to tweet about it in the first place, though they were nowhere near the first passengers to do this. Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure I accidentally invoked the wrath of whatever from high atop the thing (gotta keep you West Wing fans happy with the references) by tweeting about it, because later that morning, once the rain settled in properly after a series of spits and spurts, the next passenger I had prompted this tweet:
If any of you are concerned, I seemingly appeased the gods at least temporarily by driving around a backstreet roundabout three times, spitting out curses. (And if that’s got you confused, watching this YouTube clip may help.)
I ask, for the sake of my fleeting hold on sanity, and that of my Uber-driving brothers and sisters, if you put the window down while you’re in a car, please put it back up before you go. I think you’ll agree its literally the least we could ask of you. I’d also point out that, as was sort of the case in a previous job I had, though this wouldn’t be enough for me to rate you down if you did it in my car, not everyone who does my job has the same standards, and even if normally they wouldn’t, if they’re having a bad day this might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
There are times when you’re driving, probably in any big city in the world but definitely in Sydney, when another driver does something stupid causing you a problem. Some of those times you come up with a method for taking revenge, but they’re usually either not very satisfying, or they’re dangerous, illegal or both. This is one such method that I’m absolutely certain would be satisfying, if I took it.
Driving a car has its issues. The environmental and financial impacts are reasonably obvious to anyone who bothers to think about it. The psychological impacts tend to be harder to recognise. Now some of those impacts can be good or at least better than alternatives:
A group of people taking one car is a lot better than everyone taking their own car to the one place.
Having a car to drive can mean the difference between being able to do a particular job and earning money, and not having that job. (Perhaps slightly relevant to me as an Uber driver.)
Going for a drive can just feel good and be a stress reliever, especially if its to a destination you’re looking forward to reaching.
As I’ve remarked to a some my passengers since I’ve been Uber-ing, dealing with Sydney traffic on a full-time basis is not exactly calming. I’ve actually driven in and experienced Sydney’s traffic, though I’m sure it’s the case in most decent-sized cities.
That lack of calm can come from a number of sources. Sometimes its more on yourself than others. You’re running late for wherever you’re trying to get to, so you’re already feeling the pressure. That pressure gets magnified at every red light and every time someone doesn’t get out of the way despite the imaginary siren and flashing lights implied by the speed your driving at and the way you change lanes around traffic. Sometimes its the unexpected delay caused by an accident, by road work, or the big event that’s putting more people on the roads than would normally be there, effectively blocking your way.
And sometimes its the incompetent drivers around you that refuse to drive any faster than 20% under the speed limit, who leave their right indicator on for so many blocks you’ve lost count now, who decide they want to turn left despite being in the right-turn-only lane, or those special people who assume you’ll phase out of existence because they want to change lanes into the one you occupy.
Everyone’s experienced that last one. If you haven’t, either you’ve never driven or chances are you’re the one who does it assuming everyone else around you is wrong. (If that’s the case, there’s a good chance they’re actually right and you’re wrong.) I happened to have a couple of cases of that in a row with people cutting me off, forcing me to suddenly stop at the last moment to avoid a collision. The last one inspired the revenge that I thought of.
First though a refresher for all drivers in NSW. I’m guessing this will be similar elsewhere, especially in other parts of Australia, but I’m not going to claim its correct anywhere other than NSW. And if you’re looking for official rules for road use, coming to an Uber driver’s blog is probably not the greatest idea, no matter how smart, knowledgeable or handsome I… I mean, “he” may be. When it comes to changing or merging lanes, there’s two types of situations where the rules vary, which you can see at RMS Safety & Rules page on Lanes. If there’s two cars in adjacent lanes, heading in the same direction, essentially it comes down to whether or not the lane marking continues through the merge point to decide which one has the right of way:
When the lane marking just stops and then the road narrows down to one lane, then the car that’s in front of the other has right of way, and the trailing car has to give way to it.
When the lane marking continues so that one lane ends (either because there’s no more road, or because there’s an obstruction like a parked car) then the car in the lane that continues on has right of way, and the car in the lane that ends has to give way to it.
If that’s as clear as mud, this diagram might help:
In case you’re interested about the exact wording of the rules, you’d want to see Road Rules 2014, Part 11, Division 4, Rules 148 & 149. For the record, at the time of writing breaching either of those rules incurs a $330 fine and 3 demerit points.
Both situations I’m talking about here are of the second type, where I’m car B, and car A is coming into the lane I’m already in. The first one was where there are two lanes, and most cars are in the centre lane, as there’s a parked car in the kerb lane up ahead. I’m driving along, when a car comes up the kerb lane from behind, and gets to a point where the back seats of his car are about level with my front bumper. He’s running out of room – at least partly because of the speed he’s going) so starts to move into my lane at about the same time he puts his indicator on. As much as I know I legally have right of way, and have generally been raised to stand up for myself and what I believe in, I also know that if I do so the best case scenario results in damage to my car, worst case scenario results in damage to me. Letting instinct take over I brake to avoid the collision, while the rest of my brain agrees with my instinct over the risk vs reward of the situation.
My brain also doesn’t like not standing up for what’s right, so I honk my horn at him. Apparently the other driver didn’t agree with my assessment of the legalities of the situation. Or perhaps his understanding of physics was different to mine, believing it possible for two objects to occupy the same place in space and time without a nuclear event occurring. When there were two lanes available again near the red light that was a little further ahead, he made sure I would stop next to him by leaving several car spaces between his car and the one in front. I spotted this, and could feel him staring at me waiting for me to turn and look at him.
I seriously thought about letting him stew and see how long it would take for him to yell loudly enough for me to hear him through my closed window. Thinking he might at least come up with an amusing insult – and never thinking he’d apologise – I rolled my window down and turned to look. It disappointed me to find he only intended to call me names suggesting stupidity or ignorance on my part, or that he’d have an inappropriate interaction with my mother. Though I was about to ask how his girlfriend in the seat next to him felt about his last comment, I unfortunately didn’t get the chance as the light ahead turned green and he drove off at a speed that risked hitting the car in front despite the large gap he’d left.
The second incident was in heavy traffic, where when cars were moving they were doing so slowly. It was along a road where one lane ended and cars are forced to merge with the next lane over (very much like the second drawing above), then further down the road a new lane joined the now merged lane from elsewhere, going back to a total of two lanes. I was in the continuing lane when the car next to me tried to become the second car to merge in front of me, despite being in a similar physical arrangement with me as was in the first situation.
In this sort of barely moving traffic where two lanes go down to one, I go with the reasonably common idea of the “zipper” method, where the cars in each lane take turns, letting one through from one lane then one from the other and repeating on and on until it’s no longer necessary. I’d been happy for the first car to merge in front of me, but was miffed at this second one trying to push in. Though I don’t remember the specifics, its sports car lines combined with the initial behaviour did suggest a level of self-importance on the driver’s part.
Like in the first situation, I avoided the collision and made my unhappiness known. I had ample opportunity to, as the car stopped so the driver could (presumably) rant and (definitely) gesture at me through his window despite the space that was becoming ample in front of him. After what felt like hours he finally moved on and we crawled forward for a bit. Not too long afterwards we reached the point where the other lane joined the one we were in. I was going to turn right up ahead so I needed to get across to this added lane, and was able to without any difficulty. While I’d waited for the window of opportunity to change lanes safely, I’d also come up with an idea for revenge on this latest impediment to my calm.
Having just had some lunch and not yet having got a ride request since going back online, I was chewing some gum to avoid having bad breath for potential passengers. I’d been chewing it for some time now, and felt I was getting diminished returns for its continued use. When the sports car driver did what he did, my first reaction was to immediately throw the gum at his car. I knew that it would be tricky to do (and obviously illegal as well), but the idea festered. It bubbled away in my mind, until I could visualise it with the sort of clarity that would normally mean I’d actually done it: as I was changing lanes to the lane to his right, I’d put my window down, spit my gum into my right hand, stick my arm out the window and lob the gum over my car towards his like a tiny defective grenade. (If I have international readers, remember that we drive on the left side of the road, and the driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. To be clear, I was neither performing nor visualising a complex contortion of my body for this.)
Now I would never actually do this. As I said before it would be illegal, and it would be foolish to actively talk about an illegal act that I’d committed, even if it was something as relatively minor and inconsequential to the grand scheme of things as this would have been. Which is why I’m writing about this hypothetical form of vengeance. That I could clearly see – in my mind’s eye of course – the gum stuck to the sports car’s rear windscreen was a testament to my imagination, not my recollection. The thought of it landing close to the edge of the glass on the driver’s side of the car, so that it would be difficult for him to see it pleased me; if I’d done it and he’d managed to hear it hit his car, it’d be tough for him to work out what had happened. The idea of him not finding it until at least the end of that trip, possibly much later, tickled me in such a way that I know for a fact I wouldn’t have laughed harder if I’d actually gone through with it.
Sometimes Uber drivers can struggle to find the right place for the pickup. The GPS points to the wrong bit of road, the roads are confusing because they’re as far from being grid-like as possible. The street numbers just can’t be seen. But sometimes you’re in the exact right spot, so is the passenger, but they still can’t find you.
Most of the time when I’ve written about things that have happened to me, in my vicinity, or that were caused by me, generally there’s been some separation in time between their occurrence and their appearance here. But this story is prompted by two events that occurred yesterday, so its as hot off the presses as I’ve gotten.
Sometimes it can be tricky for an Uber driver to work out exactly where to park the car to pickup the passenger. Given that a specific location for the pickup is provided to the driver, accompanied by GPS-based directions to that location from wherever they were when they accepted the ride, I can understand some people reading that last sentence and thinking I’m abumbling fool that should never get behind the wheel of a car, let alone do so professionally. There are all sorts of reasons why an intelligent, fully awake and sober driver might get a little confused. They’re usually relatively minor things, like when a building is on a corner or when the street numbers aren’t visible (usually at night) so you can’t tell which side of the road to be on. (Both of these are easier when the passenger is ready, standing on the footpath, and has been paying enough attention to know you’re their driver and signals you as you approach. *cough* hint! *cough*) Once I had a situation where the GPS coordinates and the street number didn’t match up, so there was literally two possiblities for where I was supposed to be. Thankfully that confusing situation has only happened the one time. So far.
Most of the time there’s no problem from the driver’s end. Even when there’s something that could cause an issue, either locations that could have multiple pickup points – train stations that have entrances on both sides of the tracks are a common one for this – or situations where there’s lots of people around so finding each other will be difficult, the really helpful passengers will get in touch and clarify the situation: “I’m at the bus stand, standing outside the newsagents,” or “I’m wearing the green shirt with the red backpack,”… you get the idea. Every once in a while though, you’ll be in the exact right spot for the pickup and the passenger still won’t be able to find you.
Like I said before, it happened to me twice yesterday. Though both are at least somewhat understandable when you get the full picture, they are still a little odd. The first one was in the morning, where I was picking someone up from the international terminal at Sydney Airport. It was a busy time, with cars in all of the available spaces and then some. I managed to find a spot, and as the spots go in that car park probably one of the most easily visible ones. Once I pulled up, I did my customary scan of the area, looking for someone that had either spotted me and was headed my way, or had what I call “The Look”. I would guess that every person who’s driven for Uber would recognise it, and has probably used it to correctly pick the passenger from a group of people before they’ve even noticed you. It’s mostly holding their phone out in front of them, looking at it with a fairlay intense amount of concentration, and then looking up around them, depending on the circumstances either where they think you’re approaching from or scanning the parked cars around them for you. I don’t know what my success rate is in picking passengers out this way, but I’ll bet its higher than you’d expect given the only fact we’ve got to identify them is a name.
Anyway, I did my scan and though there were a few contenders none were jumping out at me. After a few moments I sent my usual message to the passenger explaining I’d arrived and roughly where I was in the car park. (Note to Sydney Airport people: using some sort of numbering system like in shopping centre car parks would be very helpful for both terminals. Being able to tell passengers that I was at spot A7 would be much faster and easier to understand for everyone.) Just as I send it, I get a call from the passenger. I’m pretty that because of the timing they haven’t seen my message, and so answer the call. They ask if I’ve arrived yet and where I am. I can hear wind in the background so I know that unless they’ve gone to the wrong place – not unusual for the international terminal, especially for foreign visitors – they should be visible, and because I’d just scanned for them I knew that most of the people around were in front of me.
As I’m talking I look around, and sure enough the only person on the phone is at most five metres away from my car. Watching him speak, I see the normal delay of a second or two between his lips moving and sound coming through the phone, but that the two are otherwise synchronised. It’s odd the first few times you notice it, but the delay is kind of like making an international call in the old days where you’d ask a question and wait what felt like days for the response. A few brief instructions later (“I’m the white car that’s on your left… No, you’ve turned you’re head too far. Back a bit to the right and then right in front of you… Yes, that’s me.”) and we’d sorted it out and on our way to the destination.
The other event was at the end of the day for me. I’m guessing most Sydney-siders would’ve heard at least something about a burst water main in Hurstville yesterday. It caused a lot of problems for people trying to get to or from there through out the day, especially for people relying on buses to transport them apparently. Well this passenger of mine was trying to get home, and discovered the issues of the buses from Hurstville station so tried to get an Uber from there, but King Georges Road being blocked off made traffic in the area a nightmare, meaning an Uber from there was going to take forever to arrive, so she got back on a train to another station and tried again. As relayed to me, the first Uber she requested from there just drove past her (a phone conversation with someone else once we were on our way suggested that she thought she might have accidentally cancelled the ride), so she made another request, got me, and called me as it happened just as I was looking for a spot to park. she wanted to make sure that I knew where I was going because of the difficulties she’d had – I’d later find out she’d been delayed in getting home by at least two hours. I explained that I couldn’t find a spot to pull over as I’d driven past, and had just found a place to make a safe u-turn and was literally in the process of doing so, and would be there in maybe sixty seconds. (This call was all on hands free for anyone concerned on that point.)
Sure enough I got back to the spot which was a dedicated pick up/drop off point for the station. There were already a couple of cars there, with a SUV right in front of me, meaning my car was going to be harder to spot. I was pretty confident I could see my passenger standing at the kerb through the windows of the car in front. I was about to call the passenger to let her know I was there, when I realised that all of the cars in front of me had their indicators on to pull out. A few moments later they did and I moved up next to the potential passenger, but they didn’t get in. They still had The Look, so I assumed they were waiting for someone else. No one else was around with anything like The Look, so figured they’d ducked into a shop while they were waiting for me to come back after the phone call. Not great etiquette from them if that was the case, but not a big deal.
A minute or so later I got another call from the passenger. She wanted to know where I was, and I explained I was right on top of the pick up point. She asked me if I could see the Subway that she’d said she was in front of before, so I started looking around and sure enough, the woman I’d picked out when I’d first pulled up, who was still standing in the same spot she’d been in the whole time which was now about level with my rear bumper, was now on the phone. Just at the moment I confirmed it was her via the same international-style phone delay, she realised who I was and got in the car slightly embarrassed. Though in both cases I was a little frustrated at the delays involved – though only a minute or so at a time, they can add up, and its time we don’t get paid for unless the passenger winds up being a no-show, and even then that’s still an issue – it was both minor enough and slightly amusing to me to not be a problem. I found out about the delays she’d had in getting home, a tough day at work, and the need to pack for a flight the next morning had all combined to leave her a little frazzled, understandably so.
If you request an Uber and are having problems connecting with the driver, remember that you’re phone will show you where we are. Though neither of these passengers got accusational about what I was doing and why I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, some in the past have and almost certainly some will be in the future. Though us drivers are by no means perfect, just because a mistake is made doesn’t mean it’s automatically been made by the driver.
Sometimes that ‘one last drink’ turns out to be only one of the last for the night. Sometimes the goodbyes turn into a new round of conversations. Sometimes you just get sidetracked. If you’ve ordered an Uber, it might cost you some money too.
One upon a time, there was a fair Uber driver who had driving around Sydney all throughout the day. He had just decided to finish up for the day, and because he was so close to the airport he decided to finish with an airport run and head home from whatever magical place he would be taken to.
I’m not sure how long I can continue the fairy tale-style for this, so I’ll end it here before I embarras myself. At least, anymore than I do normally. Or that I have so far.
I can’t remember exactly the date, but it was a school night and it was about 10:30pm. I had just dropped someone off at Botany, and so decided that a pickup from the airport would be a good way to finish off the night, followed by possibly one or two trips on the way home. I had just turned on to General Holmes Drive to get ready for a pickup from the domestic terminal when I got a ping for a pickup. Though it shows the address for the pickup when the request comes through, I only ever look at it before accepting in fairly specific circumstances when the location matters to me. I didn’t care at that point, so I accepted and saw that it was for a pickup in La Perouse. “Well that explains the 18 minute estimate to get to the pickup,” I thought. Though it was unusual to get a pickup that would take that long to get to, given the time of night, and the location of the pickup, it made sense once I thought it through.
I turned the car around – legally by turning onto Botany Rd, not by u-turning across a median strip or at a set of lights, for the record – and headed to the location. As I got closer, I realised it was sending me to the NSW Golf Club. This got me excited, because the last time I had a pickup there (which was really the only other time I’d had a pickup there) was a trip across the Harbour Bridge and Spit Bridge, so I figured there’d be a good chance of a decent length trip for a solid fare. Though I was wanting to finish up, I’d happily have a long fare to finish up the day, even if it meant a longer than expected drive back home.
It was a longish drive to the pickup with very little traffic around. I had some time to think, and so pretended that this was the actual ride and estimated what I would earn for the fare if I was actually taking someone to the golf club from where I’d gotten the ping for the ride. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing this just so I’ve got a sense of how my day’s going financially, and also so that when I get the final figure after the ride’s over I can tell if something’s particularly wrong with the amount – when it does happen its usually around a toll that wasn’t added to the fare when it should have been. After working it out part way through the drive and allowing for the time and distance travelled before I started my calculations, my guesstimate was in the $18-20 range. I figured there was a good chance the actual ride would be worth at least that much, and so was fairly happy with myself in getting this, which seemed like it would be at least as good as an airport ride.
If you’ve not been to the NSW Golf Club, then seeing its address as being on ANZAC Parade is a little misleading. You do turn off ANZAC Parade, but its another kilometre or so through bushland on a narrow lane way before you get to the car park and clubhouse for the golf course. The last time I’d been there had been during the afternoon, so it was fairly easy to see where I was going, but this was definitely night time, with no street lights, and a scattering of speedbumps to keep things “interesting”. Though it is one lane each way (except where its only one way), it feels much narrower in the dark.
I got to the car park at the clubhouse, and saw some people just walking out the front door. I stopped near where they were walking to, and they seemed to be looking at my car in the same way that people tend to when they’ve booked me. It’s hard to describe, but if you’ve ever been a rideshare driver, you’ll know the look I’m talking about. However it turned out they weren’t my ride, someone else had apparently left the clubhouse a little before I’d got there, to bring the car to the rest of their friends. It took a couple of minutes to actually work that out on my part, but eventually they got into the other car and left. I found a parking spot in view of the exit, and switched the lights on my car to the parkers rather than the full headlights. Shortly after parking another pair of people wandered out, and started walking in my direction, but they were also heading to another car which happened to be near where I was parked. After this I decided I’d already been waiting a little while, so started my five minute timer. As much as I wanted the ride, I wasn’t going to hang around forever to get it. Which ultimately meant that I wasn’t going to get this ride.
I waited, wondering about why they hadn’t shown up yet. Had they pocket-Ubered somehow? Had they requested it, seen it was going to take a while for me to get there and figured they could do something else while waiting, and got side-tracked? Lost track of the time? Been too out of it to realise when they were notified I’d arrived? Did the queue at the bathroom – or the process once inside – take longer to progress than expected? Did they book it for the wrong golf course? And the more suspicious side of my brain wondered “Is this a prank by someone to play with the poor Uber driver?”
The timer finished, and wanting to get this ride because I’d “invested” close to 30 minutes into it at this point, I still looked around to see if there was anyone coming, any sign that my passenger was going to show up, but apparently it wasn’t to be. So I cancelled the trip, and headed back the way I’d come. As I was doing this I realised it was too late to expect a ride from the airport, and being a school night I decided it was time to pack up and head home. However, I kept an eye out for a re-request of the ride from the golf club; unless they’d somehow accidentally requested a ride, there was a decent chance that even if they didn’t notice the ride had been cancelled on them that when they got out to the car park and no one was waiting for them they’d check their phone, notice and request a new ride. I also checked the passenger app and saw that I was the only driver anywhere remotely close to the club, so was confident that I’d get the request when it came through.
It never came through. At least not to me anyway. I got all the way back to the airport without a ping. Any doubts I had about heading home were put to rest at that point. I confirmed that I got my cancellation fee, which was a small consolation for the time spent. When that came through, it allowed me to see what ride had been booked by the anonymous passenger: it was to Balgowlah. Depending on the specifics, probably somewhere between $45-50. Compare that to the $18-20 it would have been to get to the pickup from where I was (not counting the return part of that journey, because with few exceptions in Sydney you’d have to retrace many if not all of your steps to get back from La Perouse). Compare it to the $8 I got for my troubles.
If you’re ever surprised by getting a low rating from a driver, its worth thinking about whether you wasted their time in any way: the pickup location was wrong and they had to go somewhere else to get you, you took you’re time getting to the car, you decided to have a chat with friends before getting to the car, or at least confirming that you were the passenger, … Anything that delays your driver in a way that they don’t get paid for, is a chance – depending on the driver and the circumstances – for your rating to go down. Please keep it in mind next time you request an Uber.
Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue. And some days when you’re the statue it feels like you’re surrounded by ibises instead of pigeons. Though an exaggeration, here’s one day that felt like that for me.
Almost every day driving for Uber, something happens that will really annoy me. The vast majority of those would be things that others drivers do on the road; its one of the reasons I have the calming music on when I’m driving, as anyone who’s commented on it while in my car would know. But sometimes its what passengers do – or would-be passengers – that inspire in me the kind of feeling where you want to give something a Basil Fawlty-style “damn good thrashing”.
One such day started with me in the city on other business. (To be fair, the day had started quite some time before as it was about 7pm, but it was the start of my working day that day.) I figured it’d be a good time to switch on and possibly get someone headed home after work, so I did. Sure enough, within a minute or two I got a ping for a pickup in Surry Hills, not too far from Central Station. I was slightly concerned by the rating of 4.2 that I was shown for thepassenger; at least at the time of writing its the lowest I’ve ever seen for a passenger. As I approach I spot someone on the other side of the road standing exactly where the pin on the map is, so I drove past. I knew there was a roundabout at the next intersection where I could make a u-turn without hassle – I wasn’t driving past him because the guy looked shady or I was being nasty. I pull up next to him, and sure enough he gets in the car along with another guy who had crossed the road. As they’re getting in I start the trip, and am rewarded with a destination in Bella Vista. (I don’t remember the exact address, and even if I did I wouldn’t put here: even with my small readership I know not to intentionally take away someone’s anonymity like that.)
If you’re not familiar with Sydney’s geography and don’t know where Bella Vista is in relation to the Sydney CBD, you’re not alone because I didn’t at the time and to be honest I’m still not exactly sure. I could see from the map at the time that it was quite a distance away, and when I got the navigation details showing on my phone, I was able to estimate that my share of the fare after Uber’s cut was going to be in the $55-$60 range; an excellent start to a day that, if I’m being honest could and should have started earlier than it had. The only down side to these longer rides that go away from the “core” area is the unpredictability of the next ride: how long will it be before I get the request, how far and for how long will I have to drive to get it and then get to it… Those all vary a lot more away from the core than when in and around it, and can result in a lot more down time waiting than otherwise. Still, you take the ride and hope for the best at the other end, especially when the longer the ride, the more it tends to at least help pay for any delays afterwards.
Anyway, back to the ride. It took me a few moments, but I was hit with the strong smell of cigarette smoke. Normally when that happens I get some sort of warning, usually by seeing the passenger putting out the cigarette they were smoking as they see me approach to pick them up. Maybe it was the “sneaky” second passenger I wasn’t aware of that had been smoking, but either way all I could do was try to subtly limit my breathing and cover my mouth to try and lower how much poison I was consuming, and turn the dial on the air freshener up to 11. It only goes to 3, but I tried nonetheless. Oh, did I mention that it started raining pretty much the moment the smell hit me, so I couldn’t put the window down either. I now understood why their rating might have been as low as it was.
So I’m slowly dying, and they’re talking about whatever it is – when there’s more than one passenger I tend to listen only close enough to see if I’m being asked a question or being engaged some way – when the first guy says that they’ll be going to Chippendale first to drop off the second guy, or for the second guy to get something from his apartment and then keep going… That part was confusing, because the story seemed to change at several points. At each point I say I’m fine with the detour, especially seeing as its likely only to be a very small one from our path already. Then they go back to discussing “how long it’ll take”, which I’m trying to follow to work out whether I’ll be waiting for one or both of them to go in and then for one or both to come back to the car before going to the end of the journey. I say “trying to follow”, because again it was confusing as to what was going to happen – either they were actually working it out or they needed more improv classes to respond to what their partner was saying, not get to the line they had in mind already. Eventually its decided that they’ll end the ride with me at Chippendale, because they don’t know how long it will take there. (I still couldn’t work out what the “it” was.)
Though it was disappointing to miss out on the big fare – it wound up being about $50 less than what I’d estimated at the beginning – the way the smell seemed to be permeating in the car, I’d be happy to get them out before the smell became a permanent fixture. It was even less disappointing as the ride was finishing up. They went back to whatever conversation they were having, which I’m hearing even less of as I’m concentrating on navigating the narrow streets of Chippendale at night in the rain. While making a turn, I thought I heard a racial epithet. (I’m definitely not repeating it here.) As I started to dismiss it in my head as having misheard it, I heard it again, this time clear as day and in a context that eliminated the possibility of it being even a poor taste joke let alone an intelligent discussion. I’d like to think that if I hadn’t been in the process of pulling over to let them out when I heard it clearly that I would have kicked them out. I’m not sure I have the confidence to do that, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t say anything about it to them even as they were leaving. I did however ensure that their rating didn’t improve, and reported them to Uber as well for good measure.
I’d never been so relievedto miss out on a long ride like what was originally booked.
Hopefully no one comes to this post surprised by the idea that smoking is bad for your health. Though I can imagine there are people who haven’t thought it through, it also shouldn’t surprise anyone that smoking can be bad for your Uber rating.
I feel as though this shouldn’t be a controversial opinion to post. I feel as though this should be obvious to anyone who reads this, whether they have participated in any way with ride sharing, or in fact if they’ve existed in the world and are at all aware of what smoking is.
Don’t smoke in my car. If you do you’ll be told to get out. I don’t have anything to safely handle the cigarette being extinguished, don’t have the desire to carry around a “fresh” cigarette butt in my car, and don’t want to be in any way responsible for littering by it being tossed out of my car. Don’t smoke in my car.
Now the basic concept – if not the reasons I mentioned above – should be reasonably obvious. However I have had someone try to light up a cigarette after I picked them up once. I figured I was safe from that this time because they’d just put out a cigarette before they got in when I picked them up. They sat in the back seat, and within a couple of minutes, I heard them put the window down – which seemed odd given that it was late on a cold night – and then a sound that I soon realised was them trying to get their lighter going. Looking in the rear-view mirror I saw them light up the cigarette in their mouth, and told them no. They argued that they had the window down, but I told them that wasn’t good enough, so they looked around for a moment and then threw the lit cigarette out the window.
I should’ve kicked them out. I was relatively new to Ubering, hadn’t had any incidents where I felt like the passenger had done something wrong, let alone thought about finishing the ride early and telling them to get out. I hadn’t even had an incident where afterwards I thought that maybe I should’ve kicked them out at the time. Until this ride at least. I let them stay, and fumed through the rest of the trip at the audacity of them to light up in the first place, and then the self-entitlement to complain about not being able to smoke when they were paying for the car ride, and how other riders let them smoke. Looking back on it the next morning, I resolved to not let that happen again, and that I would take a hard line with smokers in the future. It also meant that when much later I put signs up in the car relating to my Ubering, the first thing I knew to put on the sign was “No Smoking”.
But smoking in an Uber isn’t the only way for a smoker to annoy, frustrate or anger an Uber driver. Though so far I’ve only had one person try to smoke in the car – and no one else ask for permission and be denied – I’ve had plenty of people who have been standing on the kerb or footpath, and when they’ve spotted me coming down the street or when I’ve pulled up in front of them, they’ve dropped the cigarette they’d been smoking to the ground, usually put it out with their foot, then get in the car. Just like them spotting me triggers them to get rid of the cigarette, seeing them get rid of it gets me cringingat the thought of them getting in the car. Not only that, but its the only thing so far that has meant passengers have lost a star from their rating from me before they get in the car.
Though this shouldn’t surprise smokers, the smell stays with you and gets into the car next to you as though you were bringing a friend. It also shouldn’t surprise smokers that sometimes that “friend” sticks around in the car long after you’ve gotten out. Not only do I have to put up with the smell, but if it does stick around and can’t be overcome by putting the windows down to air out the car and turning the air freshener up to max to try and deal with it, then the next passenger also has to deal with the smell. I know if I got into an Uber that smelled of cigarette smoke, I’d make sure I rated the driver, and it wouldn’t be a “5”.
So if you get into my car smelling of cigarettes – or any other foul smell for that matter – assuming I’m not being instantly choked out and so cancel the ride on you, you’re guaranteed to get no higher than a 4-star rating. I know plenty of other drivers feel the same way too. Whereas you get the choice to rate the driver or not, drivers have to rate passengers at the end of every trip, and a smell hanging around helps to remind us to rate lower. Unless its bad enough to cancel the ride before it starts, you’re rating is going to drop if you stink of smoke.
Simple tip… Don’t smoke in the car, or just before you get in the car: you stink!
A GPS mixup that might have otherwise set the record for longest and most expensive Uber trip. At least in Australia.
So a little while ago I posted about a situation where a potential customer decided to cancel a trip that would have involved going from Cronulla to Dunedin, or the south of Sydney to the South Island of New Zealand. I thought it would have to be a one off situation where the passenger somehow either messed up the pickup location or the destination. Maybe it happens more often than I originally thought. Let me explain…
At the start of one of my driving days, unless there’s a special event on or there’s surge pricing happening somewhere near me, I head in the direction of Sydney Airport: you’re guaranteed to get a ride of some sort, and it’s been the starting point for at least the two longest rides I’ve ever had. Most days I get a ride at some point before I reach the airport, but if I don’t I’ll still get a ride from the airport. Well one day recently, I got to the airport without a ride, so pulled up in our waiting area and settled in to wait.
After a longer wait than I would like – but shorter than it can be – I got a ping for a pickup from the domestic terminal, and headed over to the pickup area. Normally when I do a pickup from the domestic terminal, by the time I get to the pickup area the passenger’s waiting for me, but these time seemed to be one of the other times where I beat them there – as no one waved at me as I came around the corner, or any other signs of recognition – so I headed in and parked. When I get there first at the airport, I send a text message to the passenger to let them know I’m ready, and help them be able to find me, and I got this response:
I’ve been to Sydney Airport a bunch of times, and I would think its pretty likely I’ve got more than average knowledge about the layout, including that there’s three terminals. So when I see “T4”, I don’t know what they mean. After a moment or two, I wonder if they meant “P4” referring to a car park. I don’t know all the car park numbers, but I know that the lower numbers are at the domestic terminal and that they go at least as high as P9, which is over at the international terminal. Though I wouldn’t realise it until a minute or two later, it was probably very lucky that I specifically said “Sydney” airport in my follow up message. If I hadn’t, we might’ve been going back and forth for a while before working out what the issue was.
The rest is pretty simple: the passenger cancelled the ride, and I moved out of the pickup area to go back to the queue for the next pickup.
Though this trans-continental trip seems equally strange as the trans-Tasman one I talked about before, I have a little more information to work with. For instance, in this one I know where the passenger was when they booked the ride, as well as where they wanted to go. (Like the last one, I saw the actual destination address after the cancellation fee came through.) I also have a little context: that they were trying to do a trip from an airport. I think that they may have flown from Sydney to Perth, and were trying to get home. My guess is that they maybe took an Uber to Sydney Airport, flew to Perth, and that they took their phone off airplane mode just before booking their ride. They were so quick in doing so – they had their home address already loaded in the app – that it hadn’t updated the GPS location from when their phone was last on, booking it from Sydney rather than Perth. Regardless, it was another entertaining few moments for me. Especially when I worked out that I would’ve been paid about $5,500 for the ride, easily the most for a single ride in my time as a driver, and that was if I drove the Google-estimated 40 hour ride straight through.
So when you book an Uber, and you’re not typing in the address for the pickup and are just using GPS, give it a few moments to update, and double-check that the app thinks you’re in the right state.