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.