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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australian-country-road
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.

sydney to perth
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.

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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.

You wanted to go where?

An amusing time for me when a passenger makes a mistake with either their pick up or drop off location.

The majority of rides I get are pretty simple, and follow these basic steps:

  1. The app on my phone pings for a ride request
  2. I accept the request, and head to the pickup location
  3. The passenger(s) get in and I start the ride in the app
  4. I drive to the destination
  5. The passenger(s) get out and I end the ride in the app

cronulla beach
If you look closely, you can see the destination… No, you’ll have to look closer than that.
I don’t see the destination for the ride until step 3; I don’t know how far or in what direction I’ll be going until the ride starts. Which means that on the odd occasion where the ride gets cancelled, I don’t know where it would’ve been to, except for certain circumstances. That’s when there’s a cancellation fee that I get paid. Usually that only happens when I’ve arrived at the pickup location and have been waiting for at least five minutes (or I’ve spent a significant amount of time heading to the pickup location, but this is less likely as the majority of pickups tend to be fairly close to where I was when the alert came through). When I do get paid a cancellation fee, I can look in the list of rides I’ve had for the day, see the record for the cancelled ride, and see where they’d set as their destination.

All of this is to explain the surprising thing that happened to me the other day. I was near the end of a ride for a couple of guys to Cronulla, when I got a request for a new ride. This tends to happen when it’s getting busy in the area – not necessarily surging, but it might start surging if it stays busy. I accept the new ride, drop the guys off at their destination, and head to the pickup spot for the new ride, which happens to be just up the road.

I get there, and manage to find a spot to pull up right outside the address. No one was standing outside, which isn’t too strange as I’d managed to get there pretty quickly from when I’d got the request, so I waited. Sometimes the GPS can be a little off with determining the pickup location: it might put it one or two doors down the street, around the corner or on the opposite side of the road, depending on the spot, so because of all this I’m looking around the area, not just at the property I’ve been pointed to. I spot someone that I think could be the passenger, but they walk right past and disappear up the street.

After a minute or two, with no sign of activity at the address and no contact from the passenger, I start a five minute timer on my watch. I do this because I want to give the passenger a fair chance to either come out to the car or at least get in touch to let me know what’s happening, but I don’t want to wait around all day if they’re not going to show up. If I wind up cancelling on them after the timer goes off, I’ll get a cancellation fee paid, but I’ve given them more than the prescribed time for that to happen, which I think is fair. (I welcome your disagreement in the comments below. 🙂 ) In the mean time I’m still looking and waiting for someone to show up, but nothing.

The timer goes off. I do one last look to make sure there’s no sign of anyone that might be my missing passenger, and craning my neck to see up the driveway of the address, I hear my phone trill its cancellation sound: my passenger has cancelled on me, just before I did the same. I’m annoyed, but I pull out and head off in search of my next fare. A minute or two later, my running tally of fares for the day had updated in the app, and I saw that I’d got my cancellation fee. Out of curiosity to see what sort of fare I’d “missed out” on, I check to see what the destination had been: Dunedin, New Zealand.

cronulla to dunedin
If Google Maps is suggesting the best route to your destination involves flying, there’s probably cheaper options than UberX.

It took me a few moments to understand what I was looking at. It was a good thing that I was parked while checking this, because if I hadn’t been I may have laughed my way into an accident. Don’t ask me how this person managed to book a trans-Tasman trip car ride. That it was an international trip was impressive enough, but to somehow try and book a car ride across the Tasman Sea, a trip which would be a couple of hours by plane… well I’m sure you can understand why I was laughing. I’m yet to come up with a theory as to how this happened, or at least one that makes sense. I can’t work out whether they were in New Zealand and somehow had a GPS malfunction that put them across the ditch, or if they were in Cronulla and somehow entered a New Zealand address by mistake. I don’t think its the latter, as after doing a bit of googling I couldn’t find an address that could’ve had a typo to result in the one that I got.

It amused me, and reassured one passenger who was nervous about using the app correctly that any mistakes they made weren’t likely to beat that one. So as a tip, when you’re booking an Uber ride, double check that the map doesn’t have international borders or an unexpected body of water like the Tasman Sea going through your route.