Pick Up Points: Helping the driver find you

Some of the do’s and don’ts to help speed up the process of your Uber driver finding you and be on your way.

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When you’ve got your account set up, it seems like it should be really easy to get an Uber to go somewhere. Generally that is the case. You open the app, it works out where you are, you tell it where you want to go, and confirm the request. But there seems to be a few things that people don’t always take into account that can mess it up.

Whether they’re minor inconveniences or real pains in the mikta (Stargate SG-1 fans know what I’m talking about), and whether they’re problems for the passenger, the driver, the surrounding people or some combination of all three, avoiding them will help you be on your way faster, help keep your driver from being annoyed with you and help everyone else around you keep going about their day.

It probably should go without saying, but every Uber driver is a little bit different. What one driver absolutely can’t stand, another may not even notice. Even with the same driver something can be more or less of an issue depending on how the day has been going, and how many times they’ve had this same problem recently. Having said that, these are still things to keep in mind. If you don’t follow these guidelines already, there’s a good chance your rating – and in some cases your bank balance – will thank you for getting on board with them.

Be Ready To Go

Cnr Harris & John Sts, Pyrmont
Its not so much the overgrown and derelict nature of the building, as the complete lack of people that makes me think this ride isn’t going to happen.

If you’re in a rush, it can be frustrating to request an Uber, only to see that its going to take more time than you thought it would for the driver to arrive. Perfectly understandable and reasonable, especially if you’re running late for wherever you need to be. Now reverse the roles: the driver arrives at the pickup location but there’s no sign of the passenger. “Am I at the right place?” “Did they actually mean to make the request?” “Maybe they’re not coming.” “Should I cancel this one, because its busy at the moment and I could get a good fare.” These are all things I’ve thought when I’ve arrived to an absence of passengers.

When we arrive at a pickup point, the Uber driver app starts a timer automatically, counting down from two minutes. If we don’t start the trip before that timer runs out, you as the passenger start being charged for the time we’re waiting on you. Technically you’ll only be charged if the ride actually starts, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. If the passenger cancels the ride at this point, they’re charged the cancellation fee. (At the moment that’s $10 in Sydney.)

The second thing to be aware of is that when the first timer runs out a new one starts counting from zero up to three minutes. This is showing the driver how much waiting time the passenger will be charged for. When this gets to three minutes, it stops counting and alerts the driver that they can cancel the ride and they’ll get a cancellation fee. And though it doesn’t work out exactly, what the driver is paid of the cancellation fee is roughly the same as what they’d be paid for a minimum fare plus three minutes of waiting time.

All of that means that to wait longer than a total of five minutes after arriving at the pickup location, a driver is gambling on the length of the ride. If its been five minutes and I’ve not seen any sign the passenger is coming, then I don’t really have a reason to stick around. Especially if its a busy time of day, more so if there’s surge pricing in the area.

So don’t request the ride until you’re ready to go. You don’t necessarily have to be standing at the kerb before you hit “Request UberX”, but you probably should be ready to step out the door. You’re much less likely to have to pay for the driver’s waiting time, which helps keep the trip a little bit cheaper.

And if you realise you’ve forgotten something and have to go back inside – especially if going inside involves potentially waiting for a lift up and back down, or traversing several flights of stairs – let your driver know what’s happening. Send them a message or call them and tell them you forgot to lock the back door, or left your other bag in your room, or whatever it is you’ve got to sort out. Your driver’s much more likely to stick around if they know you actually want to take the ride and are on your way.

Be Locatable

syd to per diff
Remember how I was booked for a pickup from Sydney Airport instead of Perth Airport? Sometimes GPS isn’t 100% accurate.

A lot of the time, GPS is great. You can see exactly where you are, and how to get to where you want to go. Sometimes though you might be in a spot where the GPS signal is a little spotty. The worst I’ve seen it is in and around the city, but you can run into black spots just about anywhere if the conditions are just right.

Its a good idea to double-check your pickup location once you’ve requested the ride. (This is easier to do if you’re already ready to be picked up when you make the request. That’s why I made it the first tip!) If the GPS was off, or if you’ve typed the pickup location to “make sure it was accurate” but made a typo, then obviously this gives you a chance to notice the problem and fix it before the driver has to change direction to get to you.

It also means that if for some reason you see that the app is directing to driver to the wrong spot, you can move the pickup location to correct for this. It seems that at least some of the time, when you drop the pin in the Uber app, it ignores the street in the address and instead finds the nearest bit of road to the pin and directs the driver there. This won’t always be a problem, but it can mean that the driver is sent around the nearby corner or to the lane way at the back of the house to make the pick up. In trying to get to you quickly, we don’t always notice this discrepancy.

If there’s something unusual about where you’re getting picked up from or perhaps it doesn’t translate well onto the map, you might need to get in touch with the driver to let them know. Sometimes new roads are built as part of new development areas, or roads are moved, blocked off, opened up or changed between one- and two-way, and they aren’t always updated in mapping apps as quick as you might like. Ongoing roadworks can also make an otherwise easy and direct drive into one that needs to take the long way round. *cough* George Street light rail works! *cough*

Be Recognisable

003329-crowded-bus-stop[1]
Yeah, I’ve got no idea which of these people requested the Uber.
Once the driver gets to the vicinity, then they’ve got to try and find you. Again, for them to be able to do this you’ve got to be ready and waiting somewhere in view from the street, if not on the street. If there’s no one or at least very few people around, then just standing on the footpath somewhere that’s visible from the road is probably going to do the trick.

If there’s a lot of people around – especially if they’re looking at their phones and giving false “The Look“s – or you’re in a common area for people to be picked up from like a train station, concert site, airport, etc, its definitely a good idea to give your driver an extra advantage in finding you.

Either call or text your driver through the app, and tell them how to find you. Once you’re in contact with each other, it doesn’t take a lot for the driver to find you. Try to think about what would be easy for the driver to spot, and then pass that information on to them. Actual signposts can work well for this, though not necessarily parking signs because generally where this sort of clarification might be needed, there’s probably going to be a bunch of parking signs nearby.

If you’re in a fairly nondescript or uniform-looking area, then describing your appearance will probably help. Should the driver be looking for one person or a group? Do you have other things with you, like suitcases, an esky, or a large musical instrument? Are you wearing something distinctive, or at least some combination of things?

I’ll put it all together for you for a location I’ve done a few pickups from: Westfield Miranda. Now that’s a pretty big location, with a lot of potential pick up points. Depending on the time of day, regardless of which point you decide on, there could be a lot of people around, let alone people waiting to be picked up by someone else. Here’s an example text message that would work great for the bus stop near the big tree: (If you don’t know it, this is the Google StreetView for the spot. The big tree is behind/to the left when you open it up): “Look for the woman standing next to the bench. I’m wearing a white hat, sunglasses and a blue top.”

In Summary

I was literally writing out a bullet point summary of what’s above, when I kept ending each point with “let the driver know”. If in doubt about something, you’re not sure the driver will be able to get to you easily, or spot you when they arrive, get in touch with them. There have been times when I’ve arrived and the passenger couldn’t find me, when I’ve been able to spot them because they were on the phone to me at the time and I could see them walking around, holding a phone to their ear and were clearly looking for someone.

The driver either has gone or is going to the effort of reaching the pick up location. They don’t want it to be for nothing, and you don’t want to wear a cancellation charge and/or have to wait for another driver to show up, so help them and yourself out. Follow these tips and you’ll save time, money and hassle, and you improve your chances of a 5-star rating from your driver.

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Timing [your Uber trip request] is everything

Drivers love it when you are ready to get in to their car as soon as they arrive. But that’s not always the case. How long can they wait before time runs out?

Occasionally I’ve received trip requests from people who wanted me to arrive at a certain time, despite the fact that they’d requested a driver to come straight away. I know this because I’ve received messages from them as I’m on the way to the pickup location or after I’ve arrived saying they want the ride at a particular time, or in half an hour, or something else along those lines. I chalk these up to either people not being familiar with the system, or to the mercurial nature of the scheduled ride option in the Uber app. Sometimes the button’s there, sometimes its not, and I’ve not been able to work out any reasons for the shifting state of its visibility.

The vast majority of the trip requests I get though are immediate. The passenger wants to go somewhere now, makes the request which gets fed to me, and I show up as quickly as I can. And most of the time the person making the request is ready to go when I arrive; they’re standing at the side of the road in front of the building set in the request, or they’re on the road between the parked cars leaning out looking for my arrival, or they come out of the house within moments of me getting there.

More often than not it takes me at least a couple of minutes to get to the pickup after accepting the ride. I think most people factor this in when they make a request, and get caught a little by surprise when I show up almost instantaneously. (Its rare, but it does happen sometimes.) That’s fair enough: as much as its generally expected that passengers should only request a ride when they’re ready to be picked up, I think it makes sense for people to use the time between request and arrival for last checks on anything they’re taking with them, or for them to check the estimate for when a driver might arrive, see that its going to be a little while and request it to ensure they’ll get where they’re going in time.

Even when it makes sense to give the person a bit of extra time to get to the car, it still doesn’t feel good as a driver, waiting for the passenger to show up. Until we actually start the ride, we don’t make any money. And we can’t start the ride until the passenger actually starts getting in the car. So if you’ve ordered an Uber, the car arrives and then you start saying your goodbyes to your friends for the next minute or two before actually getting in the car, that’s wasted time for the driver.

Now obviously every driver has different standards for what will make them rate a passenger less than 5 stars, and what issues are worth taking off how many stars. I’ve talked about how I feel when I can taste the cigarette smoke in the air when someone gets in my car, but that’s just me and not a flat thing across the board for all drivers. Making a driver at the pickup location for you to be ready is another one of those things that might get you a lower rating than you would like. The longer you make them wait, the more likely they are to rate you down, or rate you down by more.

Cancellation Fees

time-is-moneyMaybe not everyone knows this, but I’d be willing to bet that every Uber driver does: with Uber, once the driver has waited at the pickup location for at least five minutes, if the ride is cancelled then a cancellation fee is charged to the rider. Now the fee might be different in every city, but the principle is the same.

When I first started driving, I was worried about being too harsh or strict with that rule. At the same time, I didn’t want to wait all day for what might have been an accidental trip request – or for that matter a request that was a prank or some sort of malicious effort to mess with my day. For a long time I would pull up at the pickup location and wait. I’d look around and see if anyone was paying any attention my way, or had The Look but hadn’t spotted me yet. I’d give it a bit of time for something to happen, with the actual amount of time being fairly random, and more based on my mood than anything concrete, at which point I’d start a five minute timer. Once the timer was up, I’d have another look around to make sure no one was headed towards me, and then cancel the ride as a “Rider No Show”. I’d be on my way, and a few moments later I’d have my cancellation fee show up on my record for the day.

That always seemed fairly reasonable to me. It meant that I was giving people a reasonable amount of time to get to me, while making sure that if I did wind up cancelling I wasn’t going to have been waiting there for absolutely nothing. It felt like people got a chance, especially because if I was starting the timer I’d be sending the passenger a message to let them know I was there, in case they’d missed the notification of my arrival from the app itself.

Recently there’s been a lot of changes to the Uber app, some big, some small, and at least one that’s quite relevant to this topic. This particular change isn’t something you’d see as a passenger, because its actually a change in how the driver app works. Now when I arrive at the pickup location for a ride, the app starts counting down from five minutes. It happens automatically, based on the GPS tracking my location. Not only that, but if the counter reaches zero, it replaces the timer with a highlighted message that the request is now eligible for a cancellation fee, if it wasn’t already visible it shows the cancellation button, and has the button pulsing to draw attention to it. It may not be explicit, but its definitely encouraging us drivers to cancel the ride at that point.

It also means that every driver can see exactly how long it takes for you the passengers to get to the car from when they arrive at the spot. Rather than guessing about whether the passenger was quick and prompt or lazily took their time, we have the time right in front of us. I know a couple of drivers who’ve started to use that timer not only to cancel rides as quickly as they can to get the cancellation fees, but have also used it as a factor in rating the passengers who do get in the car, limiting how high a passenger can be rated based on how long the driver waited for them.

Again, not every driver will do this. But its more likely now that you’ll cop a cancellation fee if you aren’t prompt in getting to the Uber when it arrives to pick you up, or that you’ll be rated lower for making the driver wait for you. Bottom line, to avoid paying a cancellation fee or getting a low rating:

  • Request the Uber when you’re ready to get in, not in advance of you being ready.
  • Be visible at the pickup location if you can, and pay attention to the app and/or the road so you can see when your Uber arrives.
  • Get in the car – or at least acknowledge the driver – as quickly as you can.
  • If you’ve realised there’s a problem that means the driver’s going to have to wait for you, let them know as quickly as possible.

Too drunk to get to the Uber?

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.