Hello, is it me you’re looking for?

I can see it in your eyes, I can see it in your smile, You’re the reason I’m pulling up at the kerb and putting my hazard lights on, hoping not to get booked for stopping in a No Stopping zone.

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The map says I’m coming from the exact opposite direction you’re looking, but I’m sure you’ll spot me soon enough…
I’ve spoken about “The Look” before. It’s something we drivers learn to recognise to help give us a chance in picking out who our passenger is for the next ride we’re about to go on. It usually involves someone standing on the footpath, holding their phone and looking between it and up the road towards the cars coming towards them. It’s easier when there’s luggage on the ground next to them (as well as a clue that we’re likely heading to the airport) and a source of frustration (and temptation to cancel) when their smoking a cigarette, doubly so when they spot you and immediately go to put the cigarette out.

A quick personal observation is that it often seems these people are looking in the wrong direction in that glance up from their phone. That’s despite having just seen which direction their driver is coming from, courtesy of the map in the app on their phone. Yes, they could be looking at something other than the Uber app, such as emails, Twitter, an extremely well written blog that hasn’t been updated in a while, hoping to see a new entry to brighten their day. And yes, I could be remembering the ones who look the wrong way more so than the ones who look in the right direction. Even so, there’s more that look the other way than you might think.

Anyway, where was I? Right; the Look. One of the reasons why we pick up on the cues passengers give is that we often don’t have much else to go on. As a passenger, you get to see the name of the driver, but also a photo of their face, the make and model of the car they’re driving as well as its number plate. Also, if you’re tracking the car and are outside by the road ready for it to arrive, you get to match it up with the timing of its arrival and the direction its coming from. To be fair the last one can be off if the GPS is spotty where you are getting picked up from, but you should still be able to get an idea from all of that combined.

On the other side of that equation, drivers get the name of the passenger and the location to pick them up from. Now let’s ignore the possibility that the person who made the ride request might not be the person actually getting in the car. I’ve had numerous rides where a spouse or partner has booked the ride for their significant other. Parents have booked rides for their child or vice versa. Sometimes friends have booked for friends. In one case, an assistant or similarly professionally-related person booked the ride for a former presenter on a children’s ABC TV show. (Hint: that week we went through the round window to my childhood.)

Even assuming the person who booked the ride is the person, or at least one of the people going on the ride, its still tricky for the driver. Though the name can be a clue to help the driver know who to look out for, sometimes they can be useless. To be fair, most of the time they at least give some indication of gender. “John” is a pretty strong clue that I should be looking for a man, “Amy” is likewise a pretty good indicator to keep an eye out for a woman. On the rare occasion that the name shown is a series of non-English characters generally indicate that I’m looking for someone of Asian heritage, or on a couple of occasions someone from the Middle East. On the flip side of this is when I see a name like “Sam”, “Alex” or “Chris”, or ones that I’ve not heard before or otherwise don’t recognise. There I don’t know the gender or ethnicity, so it could be anyone.

Also the location for the pickup isn’t always a helpful indicator either. Sometimes its that the pickup is actually from number 26 instead of 28 as it says in the app. Perhaps its a building that’s on the corner of an intersection, and neither side is obviously “the front” or the likely candidate for someone to wait for a car. Other times its the combination of the app deciding to not indicate which side of the road the pickup is set for, and not being able to see which side of the street has the even or odd numbers. (For the record, if you’re wondering why your Uber driver doesn’t come down your long driveway for the pickup, this is probably why. If its an issue, call them when they’re on their way!) And then there are the times where there’s nowhere legal, or at least out of other people’s way, to stop making it difficult to wait for someone who may or may not be waiting in view for me.

Most of the time its not an issue. I show up, and either the passenger is there waiting for me at the right spot and gets in straight away, or I find the spot and the passenger comes to me. On occasion though it doesn’t work out. There are times where I will never know what went wrong, because I waited the minimum five minutes with no sign of anyone even looking my way let alone coming to the car, and no contact from the passenger through the app, so I cancelled the trip and moved on. Other times they cancel on me, with or without notice, and possibly before or after I arrive at the location. Then there are the weird ones where someone else gets in the car. There’s been four times in several thousand trips I’ve accepted where someone has gotten in my car and not been my allocated passenger.

I don’t really understand how that’s possible, especially given how often I’ll see my eventual passenger double- and triple-check the number plate of my car against what’s on their phone, followed up by a tap on the passenger window while mouthing “Uber” at me, and then followed by opening the door and asking “Are you <name>?”

At the end of the day, no matter how sure we might be that you are our passenger, we never know it until you actually get in. Sometimes not even then. So please help us out. Pay attention to what’s happening around you, and look for your driver and their car. You’re more likely to identify us definitively than we are you.

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From Zero To “C**t” In Nothing Flat

Sometimes you do something that annoys someone, and though it wasn’t intentional you realise you were in the wrong. Then there are times where you’re acting normally, and someone goes bats**t crazy at you for it. This is one of the latter times.

Let me start this with a disclaimer: I know I’m not innocent. Though I think that the majority of times I’ve annoyed someone have been accidental – or at least meant in jest but perhaps taken past the point of humour – there have been times where I’ve purposely set out to irritate someone. Sometimes its been out in the open, sometimes its been a stealth attempt, with varying levels of success. But this was something completely out of the blue.

I was just minding my own business – which I know sounds like I’m telling a story sarcastically but I promise I’m not – and topping up the tank in my car. I was taking advantage before the prices spiked before the long weekend. While I was there I wanted to squeegee the windscreens; with all the driving I do, dust and gunk build up a lot more on the car than they did before I Uber-ed, and getting the car washed (or doing it myself) every time it gets to be too much would be a little too expensive for my tastes.

It was time for me to take a break, so I was listening to a podcast while filling the tank. Between the headphones and the mundanity of what I was doing, I wasn’t very aware of what was happening around me. As I finished with the petrol bowser, I was half-aware that a van had pulled up behind my car. Not really paying attention to it, I went to the squeegee. Partway through doing the rear windscreen, I realised that there was some kind of alarm coming from the van. The driver was in the front seat with the door open. I figured it was a “hey your door’s open and the key’s in” kind of alarm, and just ignored it.

I finished up with the rear windscreen, re-dipped the squeegee and moved round to the front of the car. It was at this point that things got really weird for me, because as I was just starting to move the sponge part across the windscreen, I heard from the guy in the van, now leaning out the window and shouting at me, muffled by the headphones “*mumble mumble* c**t, aren’t you?”

I assumed I’d misheard him. I’d not heard the first part of what he said clearly, and the first word I thought I’d recognised was the one that caught me well and truly by surprise. When I looked up he seemed to be looking at me as he was getting out of his van, but maybe he hadn’t been talking to me. Maybe it was anger at the van itself, having some issue with it, perhaps even related to the alarm that had been going off just a few moments before. It would be made clear where he had directed the comment and the nature there of very quickly, by the next things out of his mouth.

“You inconsiderate little c**t, just take your f**king time cleaning your windshield.” I might’ve been wrong, but I was fairly confident that he was talking to me.

As far as I know I was doing something fairly normal. Not everyone cleans their windshields every time they fill up with petrol, but this certainly wasn’t the first time I’d seen someone do it. And in looking around to see if I was alone in my surprise at the sudden escalation of things, I realised that there were actually a pair of bowsers completely free and available. Even if I’d set out to delay this guy for some reason – which wasn’t the case but was becoming a more tempting option by the moment – the most I could expect would be to force him to back up and change direction to go to another bowser. Hardly the cunning and devious plan of a master villain.

Now the course of action I took at this point probably isn’t recommended by too many sane and sober experts in conflict resolution, but it did take me back to my days as parking ranger, having to deal with angry people and having to essentially stand there and cop it or risk punishment from the bosses if a complaint was made about my behaviour, however justified and non-physical/non-expletive-laden it might have been. It also took me back to being bullied in school and the combination of fear and “don’t respond” advice that got me standing like a statue when it happened in the past. So don’t take this as a recommendation to follow my lead if you get in a similar situation. With a lot of experience with these types of situations I made a read of the guy and assessed I would be ok to do what I did. But if I’d gotten it wrong the consequences could have been severe. You’ve been warned.

Now with all of that it might seem like I decided to emulate the greats of the WWE, maybe a Stone Cold Stunner or a Rock Bottom sandwiched between some trash talk. Well there wasn’t any violence. I did however, stop and walk over to him and ask what his problem was. Without wanting to repeat everything (mostly because I don’t want to wear out the <shift> and <8> keys on my keyboard from censoring out his swearing) it seemed I was supposed to intuit that he was in a hurry and move out of his way at the first opportunity, rather than do what I needed to do in a way that was convenient and expedient for me. Again I’ll point out that there was at least one bowser completely empty – no one using either side of it – available at the time.

Despite the seemingly doubly appropriate nature of applying an Attitude Adjustment, I continued to not use physicality. (It should be pointed out that I have minimal physical co-ordination, and zero experience in actual fights, so the WWE comments here are more boasting now than actual options I considered at the time.) I did decide that I was going to be as unhelpful as possible. So I slowly walked back to the front of my car, turning my back on him. I hadn’t taken the headphones off but I had paused the podcast so I could hear what he was saying, and if he tried to come up behind me. I went back to cleaning my windshield, and suggested to him that “Calling me names and using foul language straight off the bat probably isn’t a great way to convince me to help you out, is it.”

He went back to mostly incomprehensible gibberish peppered with expletives, and I went back to my now-much-more-thorough cleaning of my windshield. Somewhere between that point and me going inside to pay for the petrol, the antagonist of the story (hopefully you are all agreeing with me that that refers to the the sweary old guy rather than me) made a few more presumably rude and unnecessary but ultimately useless and not-clearly-heard comments, and actually moved to one of the other bowsers, one closer to the store.

Now we get to the point where my warning up above really applies. As I came out of the store, I spotted the old guy filling up his van, facing away from me, and saw I had an opportunity. I walked up behind him, but in no way trying to sneak up on him. He spotted me and turned around just as I got to about a metre away from him, or the normal distance between two people who aren’t familiar with each other.

But that wasn’t where I stopped; I got as close to him as I could while definitely not touching him. It pleased me immensely when he leaned back away from me. I essentially dared him: “Say something else to me. Say one more word to me.” I didn’t shout, I didn’t even raise my voice. I lowered my voice both in tone and volume. After saying that I had a pause and broke eye contact to look over his face, then came back to look him dead in the eyes again, waited a beat, and leaned in a little bit more and said even quieter “I didn’t think so.” Another beat, and then I turned around and slowly walked away.

I’d love to be able to say I had a plan for all of that. In reality, I got lucky to have managed something as cohesive as I did. Normally, without having a chance to rehearse what I’d say beforehand I’d be stumbling all over my words, and that’s definitely not the effect I was after. I got to my car and drove away, but had a thought as I was waiting for the traffic to clear leaving the petrol station. So I pulled out, drove around the block, and managed to snap this photo:

Be careful when you next fill up: doing every day normal things in the usual way could trigger a massive overreaction from the guy behind you. Be prepared for crazy!

Bad Luck With Car Troubles II: Wrath of Knock

Previously on Uber-Man: The Driver

Who knows, maybe I’ll get some material out of it…

For some reason, I can’t help but think of the advice ‘careful what you wish for’.

As I talked about last week I rented a car while my usual ride was off the road. That side of things has been fairly reasonable. The biggest issues I’ve had with it have been about differences between the two cars that you don’t think about until you experience it. Little things like having a handbrake instead of a footbrake, a mechanical gear stick that’s got some resistance to it instead of an electronic one that can change settings by tapping it.

 

Thankfully that was all the issues I had with it. Given the running around – or to put it more correctly, Uber-ing around as a passenger instead of a driver as usual – to get the rental, getting my car to and from mechanics, I’m not sure I could’ve maintained my tenuous hold on sanity otherwise.

Anyway, I was able to get around the city, make money with rides and get on with personal errands. Given the alternative I was originally facing of just not having a car at all, it was reasonably good all things considered. It was tricky on Friday getting my car to Toyota, but only the normal tricky of driving somewhere and not being able to drive back. Sure enough, a few hours after getting back home I got a message from Toyota saying my car was ready to go. After getting back I got my next disappointment, though on the scale of one to the cancellation of Firefly, it was a three.

All the recall issues were dealt with, and being recalls were sorted out for free. And they were able to identify what was causing the knock sound. Apparently it would cost about $500 to fix, replacing the steering column. Initially I agreed to go ahead with the repairs which would take another week or so to get the parts and get them installed, as it was necessary to get my car up to snuff to be registered.

Except it wasn’t! It was just a bit of gunk that had built up and was causing a sound that might be annoying. Absolutely no safety issue at all, in no way impeding the process of passing the rego safety check. Of course, when I got there it was just when the mechanics who could do the safety check had gone to lunch. Given I’d be back in the neighbourhood to drop off the rental car on Monday, I organised to do the safety check then. Also, I cancelled the order for the steering column fix.

After that it all worked out reasonably well. I returned the rental car on Monday morning, after dropping off my car for the safety check. There was a little bit of a hold up as apparently they’d not processed too many Uber rentals and there was some special process or option or thingy-ma-jig that took a little extra time to sort out. Nothing too horrendous, the staff were nice about it and I wasn’t in a rush. (Tip to people when in the role of ‘customer’: generally speaking shouting and screaming at staff to hurry up or to do their jobs properly or other similar orders don’t actually help speed the process up.)

I got back to Toyota, where my car was almost ready to pick up. While I was waiting, I checked to see if they’d uploaded the details to the RMS. They had, so while I waited for my car I paid my rego, which was almost the trigger for my car to be announced as ready. Even though I’d driven the car to its appointments over the last couple of weeks, it felt like it was the first time I’d had it since taking it to the smash repairers. I finally had my car back, and was ready to go.

Star Trek Adventures logoAs a bonus, when I got back home my copy of the core rulebook for the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game! If this is the first post you’ve read on this site, fair enough, but otherwise you’ve got no excuse for not realising ahead of time that I’m a nerd. If you too are a nerd, like RPGs, Star Trek, both, or are curious about any of the above, Modiphius have published this new game. You can buy your own copy of the book or any of the other paraphernalia for the game from their site here.

Also this post’s title probably makes a bit more sense now.

Bad Luck With Car Troubles

I don’t know about you, but it never seems to be simple with car problems. And they don’t seem to happen one at a time. Your car can be fine for ages, then suddenly it seems easier to list what works than what doesn’t.

It seems I can’t catch a trick at the moment. Way back in the dim dark times of May when this site was barely online, I wrote about the issues I had when I got a flat tyre and what happened while trying to get it fixed. Well now I’ve got a new sequence of events to complain about. (I’m really starting to understand the comedian mindset where something bad happens in your life, and your response becomes “That will give me some good material.” In my case it may only “material” at this stage, but I’m hoping to work my way up to “good material”.)

A couple of months ago I was in a minor accident. No one was hurt, and only bumpers were dented. You may have seen me tweet about it at the time:

Anyway, I made my insurance claim, and took my car off to Buraneer Smash Repairs for them to inspect it. I was told it could take up to four days to fix, which left me scratching my head a little bit. I’d had a similar accident with someone running up my backside but with the same sort of damage to my rear bumper, and the previous repairers had been able to sort it out in one day. (This is after getting the replacement bumper in. They didn’t fix it the day of the inspection, but told me that’s all it would be.)

It seemed a little off to me that it’d take that long, but I figured they were covering their bases in case there was more damage underneath that they couldn’t see with the casual inspection. The more I thought about it, the more I was sure that once we set up the appointment to actually do the work that they’d call me later that day or perhaps the next day rather than four days later to tell me they were done. So I booked in for the repairs, and went about my life for a few weeks.

steering wheel missing
“Well there’s your problem!” (Please note: not the actual condition of my car, my steering wheel is attached and working.)
Two weeks ago I took the car back to them, where they again said it would be up to four days, and obviously they’d get in touch when it was ready. I headed home, and something reminded me off what was said the first time versus what wasn’t said this time around. These guys had just given a time frame for the work, and tried to book me in for the earliest window they had. That may seem normal on the face of it, but the previous repairers had told me what needed to be done, advised how quickly they’d be able to get the parts in (in this case, a rear bumper) and booked me in at a time on that basis. Once again I started to have some doubts about how this would work.

Once at home, I pottered around for a bit. I watched some TV. I did some cleaning. I even got caught up on the blog and did some writing, getting a few posts together to be ready in advance. All the while I made sure my phone was with me and charged up, waiting to hear back from the repairers that they’d finished. Though I’d had some concerns, I kept hoping they were Star Trek fans, and following the example of a miracle-worker engineer by the name of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott that they were padding the estimate to look like they did the work faster than normal.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. After four days they got in touch and let me know it was ready. To satisfy my own curiosity, when I got there and I’d waited another 10 minutes for someone to find my car, I asked what had been done. They confirmed that all they’d done was replace the bumper. Until that point I’d been calm, ready to accept that there’d been unexpected difficulties with an otherwise simple job. Even a dodgy-sounding excuse along the lines of there being signs of potential further damage which had to be checked but turned out to be nothing would have been OK. But trying to tell me that four days is just how long it takes activated my often dormant self-assertiveness.

I’m not a car guy. They could have given me a story and it would’ve been like seeing a movie: as long as it makes sense on the surface at the time I’ll buy it, even if afterwards looking back you see the plot holes. But they told me the one thing in this situation that I could definitively refute. I knew that it could be done in a quarter of the time they’d taken, so I asked for an explanation, while holding the slip of paper they given me to sign saying I was satisfied with the work they’d done. Between the time taken to get my car back and the obvious mental tap dancing this guy was attempting to explain that they do quality work which takes time, needless to say I was not satisfied.

I took the car home, reloaded all my Uber gear and got back on the road. I needed to make up for some lost time, but I also needed to try and build up something extra to cover another car issue that was coming up. My rego was coming due, and I needed to get a safety check before it’d go through. So I took it to my local Ultra Tune. They were fine, but unfortunately I needed three new tyres (Can you guess which one didn’t need replacing?) and a headlight. Not only that, but they noticed a ‘knock’ in the steering that I wasn’t aware of. Turning the steering wheel back to centre made the noise, which was all I could hear after it was pointed out to me.

Unfortunately after consulting with Toyota, apparently only they could sort it out, and the earliest they could look at it is this coming Friday. Not only that but it turns out that my car is also on the list for a few recalls that I didn’t know about until now. Needless to say but even if my rego wasn’t expired now, it’d be a bit foolish to keep driving around Sydney with the car in its current state, especially with paying passengers.

In the mean time I’ve gotten a rental car, and will probably be writing about that experience soon, particularly as is relates to using it on Uber. There’s maybe a story to tell there, but as I’m writing this there’s not much there yet.

Who knows, maybe I’ll get some material out of it…

Is an Uber ride without the app still an Uber ride?

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 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.

Woman signalling car
If in doubt, this is a valid method of getting a taxi. It is not however a valid way for hiring an Uber.

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.

Hypothetical Revenge On An Actual Driver

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.

Merging lanes
Merging lanes can be tricky enough when everyone’s doing the right thing.

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:

img_0239
As shown on the RMS website, the different situations and rules that apply to merging lanes in NSW.

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.

But of course, I didn’t actually do it…

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I’m sure this is what you’re thinking about all this “didn’t actually do it” stuff.

When Your Passenger Can’t Find You, Right In Front Of Their Nose

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.

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“I know the app says the Uber driver’s arrived here, and there’s a car that pulled up right in front of me about the time the app said he arrived, but where is that Uber?”

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 a bumbling 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.

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Hey buddy, that car you’re waiting for is the blue one behind you. At the location you set for the pick up instead of where you’re standing.

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.

It’s going to be a while before I can get there…

A GPS mixup that might have otherwise set the record for longest and most expensive Uber trip. At least in Australia.

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Not the expected view for a Sydney Uber driver while on the clock.
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:

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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.

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Again, the flight looks like the best option.
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.

Don’t tease me, bro!

From visions of swimming in Scrooge McDuck’s kiddy pool to the reality of a normal job: the occasional highs and lows of mistaken rider destinations.

Photo looking across a lake to a country hotel building, with trees and a mountain range in the background.
A photo of the The Carriages Hotel and Vineyard, courtesy of their website.

On a wet Friday night, with Sydney surging between people wanting to get home or to their after-work events – and trying to stay dry in the process – I was driving from the vicinity of the airport towards the CBD. I got a ping for a ride, and managed to dodge enough of the traffic at the time to get to the pickup reasonably quickly. I’m feeling good because I’m about to get the first surge ride I’ve had in what feels like forever.

After a brief mishap of pulling over too early on the road – in my defence it was only two doors too early, it was dark and difficult to see the street numbers, and as I approached there were people that looked like they were waiting at the kerb with a phone out, which is a classic Uber-passenger-to-be vision and otherwise unusual in the rain – I stopped in front of the correct address, and my passengers got in to the car. I start the ride, go through the usual greeting ritual of everyone confirming who everyone else is, which is followed by me confirming where the destination for the ride is. To do that, I look down at my phone which is now showing this (as tweeted on the night):

Without the knowledge of an experienced Sydney Uber driver, you may not get the full impact of this. Hopefully you’ll recognise that that represents a trip that’s much longer than the average, by quite a large margin. Because I’ve heard stories from passengers and drivers about long trips that (supposedly) actually happened like to the Hunter Valley or to Melbourne, I’ve occassionally wondered how much they’d be worth. So I instantly knew that the trip would have a fare of a few hundred dollars, shortly followed by the realisation that this fare had a 1.5x surge. (I’ve since worked out that my cut of the fare would have been in the vicinity of $350-$400, depending on the exact route and traffic.)

Unfortunately, my visions of becoming Scrooge McDuck and diving into huse pool of money (which on reflection would be closer to a kiddy pool, and that’s taking it in coins rather than a nicely thick wad of notes) quickly disappeared like the splash from an Olympic diver. The passengers wanted to go to the Carriageworks in Redfern, not Carriages Boutique Hotel & Vineyard in the Hunter Valley. It was just a simple mistake of entering the first few letters, and selecting the wrong option from the list. Disappointing, but completely understandable.

For the record, I’ve not been paid by anyone to post this. However, should The Carriages want me to do a review and post it here and anywhere else they’d like me to, I’d be happy to discuss it. I’d be baffled as to why they’d want me to, but still happy to discuss it.

The saga continues: NRMA MotorServe can’t record phone numbers correctly

Yesterday’s story should’ve ended this morning. Unfortunately it continues today…

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NRMA MotorServe Caringbah

Yesterday I posted about my misadventure with a flat tyre. In theory I’d be out driving around now, trying to make up for lost time: my tyre was supposed to be repaired and ready to be refitted to my car this morning, and if there was a problem then the staff at NRMA MotorServe Caringbah would get in contact with me and let me know. I didn’t get a call, so I assumed that when I got there this morning I’d be collecting a repaired tyre. It wasn’t to be…

I arrived there, gave my details, and was ready to take a seat and wait a few minutes while the tyre was fitted. The staff member came back and told me that they’d tried to call me yesterday, showing the number they had for me. In most case getting something 90% correct is a pretty good result, but when it comes to phone numbers its really 100% or bust. The missed number meant that they didn’t call me, they called someone else. (I tested the number, and it goes straight to voicemail with an automated message rather than a recorded one with someone’s name.)

Apparently the tyre couldn’t be repaired, and of course they didn’t have any suitable replacements on hand. So after making sure they actually had the correct number for me this time around, the tyre’s on the way to hopefully arrive this afternoon, and maybe even get sorted out then. If not it’lol be tomorrow morning before I’m back on the road professionally.

To their credit, when I tweeted about the issue this morning NRMA did respond to see if there was something they could do.

I’ll be curious to see if they have something to say after my answer:

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NRMA MotorServe Marrickville

In case you’re wondering, the last time I took my car to an NRMA MotorServe (it was the Marrickville one) was for a service a couple of years ago. Apart from the cause it was almost exactly the same story: they took the wrong number down – with a different difference to today’s shenanigans – and I got back there just before they were closing for the day when it should’ve been ready, after waiting all day for a call that never came. They were waiting on my go ahead to replace some parts, but couldn’t get it because they had the wrong number for me. The issue I had at that point was that the number they recorded for me was not connected, which seems obvious to me that that should have been an indication to lookup my membership details for the correct number. At least this time around the number they had for me was a live one, so not quite the same impetus to check that it was correct.