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?

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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.

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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.