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.

The frustrations caused by stinky passengers

Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue. And some days when you’re the statue it feels like you’re surrounded by ibises instead of pigeons. Though an exaggeration, here’s one day that felt like that for me.

Almost every day driving for Uber, something happens that will really annoy me. The vast majority of those would be things that others drivers do on the road; its one of the reasons I have the calming music on when I’m driving, as anyone who’s commented on it while in my car would know. But sometimes its what passengers do – or would-be passengers – that inspire in me the kind of feeling where you want to give something a Basil Fawlty-style “damn good thrashing”.

One such day started with me in the city on other business. (To be fair, the day had started quite some time before as it was about 7pm, but it was the start of my working day that day.) I figured it’d be a good time to switch on and possibly get someone headed home after work, so I did. Sure enough, within a minute or two I got a ping for a pickup in Surry Hills, not too far from Central Station. I was slightly concerned by the rating of 4.2 that I was shown for the passenger; at least at the time of writing its the lowest I’ve ever seen for a passenger. As I approach I spot someone on the other side of the road standing exactly where the pin on the map is, so I drove past. I knew there was a roundabout at the next intersection where I could make a u-turn without hassle – I wasn’t driving past him because the guy looked shady or I was being nasty. I pull up next to him, and sure enough he gets in the car along with another guy who had crossed the road. As they’re getting in I start the trip, and am rewarded with a destination in Bella Vista. (I don’t remember the exact address, and even if I did I wouldn’t put here: even with my small readership I know not to intentionally take away someone’s anonymity like that.)

If you’re not familiar with Sydney’s geography and don’t know where Bella Vista is in relation to the Sydney CBD, you’re not alone because I didn’t at the time and to be honest I’m still not exactly sure. I could see from the map at the time that it was quite a distance away, and when I got the navigation details showing on my phone, I was able to estimate that my share of the fare after Uber’s cut was going to be in the $55-$60 range; an excellent start to a day that, if I’m being honest could and should have started earlier than it had. The only down side to these longer rides that go away from the “core” area is the unpredictability of the next ride: how long will it be before I get the request, how far and for how long will I have to drive to get it and then get to it… Those all vary a lot more away from the core than when in and around it, and can result in a lot more down time waiting than otherwise. Still, you take the ride and hope for the best at the other end, especially when the longer the ride, the more it tends to at least help pay for any delays afterwards.

“Seinfeld” Season 4, Episode 21: “The Smelly Car”

Anyway, back to the ride. It took me a few moments, but I was hit with the strong smell of cigarette smoke. Normally when that happens I get some sort of warning, usually by seeing the passenger putting out the cigarette they were smoking as they see me approach to pick them up. Maybe it was the “sneaky” second passenger I wasn’t aware of that had been smoking, but either way all I could do was try to subtly limit my breathing and cover my mouth to try and lower how much poison I was consuming, and turn the dial on the air freshener up to 11. It only goes to 3, but I tried nonetheless. Oh, did I mention that it started raining pretty much the moment the smell hit me, so I couldn’t put the window down either. I now understood why their rating might have been as low as it was.

So I’m slowly dying, and they’re talking about whatever it is – when there’s more than one passenger I tend to listen only close enough to see if I’m being asked a question or being engaged some way – when the first guy says that they’ll be going to Chippendale first to drop off the second guy, or for the second guy to get something from his apartment and then keep going… That part was confusing, because the story seemed to change at several points. At each point I say I’m fine with the detour, especially seeing as its likely only to be a very small one from our path already. Then they go back to discussing “how long it’ll take”, which I’m trying to follow to work out whether I’ll be waiting for one or both of them to go in and then for one or both to come back to the car before going to the end of the journey. I say “trying to follow”, because again it was confusing as to what was going to happen – either they were actually working it out or they needed more improv classes to respond to what their partner was saying, not get to the line they had in mind already. Eventually its decided that they’ll end the ride with me at Chippendale, because they don’t know how long it will take there. (I still couldn’t work out what the “it” was.)

Though it was disappointing to miss out on the big fare – it wound up being about $50 less than what I’d estimated at the beginning – the way the smell seemed to be permeating in the car, I’d be happy to get them out before the smell became a permanent fixture. It was even less disappointing as the ride was finishing up. They went back to whatever conversation they were having, which I’m hearing even less of as I’m concentrating on navigating the narrow streets of Chippendale at night in the rain. While making a turn, I thought I heard a racial epithet. (I’m definitely not repeating it here.) As I started to dismiss it in my head as having misheard it, I heard it again, this time clear as day and in a context that eliminated the possibility of it being even a poor taste joke let alone an intelligent discussion. I’d like to think that if I hadn’t been in the process of pulling over to let them out when I heard it clearly that I would have kicked them out. I’m not sure I have the confidence to do that, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t say anything about it to them even as they were leaving. I did however ensure that their rating didn’t improve, and reported them to Uber as well for good measure.

I’d never been so relieved to miss out on a long ride like what was originally booked.

Smoking [in an Uber] is bad for your [rating] health

Hopefully no one comes to this post surprised by the idea that smoking is bad for your health. Though I can imagine there are people who haven’t thought it through, it also shouldn’t surprise anyone that smoking can be bad for your Uber rating.

I feel as though this shouldn’t be a controversial opinion to post. I feel as though this should be obvious to anyone who reads this, whether they have participated in any way with ride sharing, or in fact if they’ve existed in the world and are at all aware of what smoking is.

Don’t smoke in my car. If you do you’ll be told to get out. I don’t have anything to safely handle the cigarette being extinguished, don’t have the desire to carry around a “fresh” cigarette butt in my car, and don’t want to be in any way responsible for littering by it being tossed out of my car. Don’t smoke in my car.

Now the basic concept – if not the reasons I mentioned above – should be reasonably obvious. However I have had someone try to light up a cigarette after I picked them up once. I figured I was safe from that this time because they’d just put out a cigarette before they got in when I picked them up. They sat in the back seat, and within a couple of minutes, I heard them put the window down – which seemed odd given that it was late on a cold night – and then a sound that I soon realised was them trying to get their lighter going. Looking in the rear-view mirror I saw them light up the cigarette in their mouth, and told them no. They argued that they had the window down, but I told them that wasn’t good enough, so they looked around for a moment and then threw the lit cigarette out the window.

I should’ve kicked them out. I was relatively new to Ubering, hadn’t had any incidents where I felt like the passenger had done something wrong, let alone thought about finishing the ride early and telling them to get out. I hadn’t even had an incident where afterwards I thought that maybe I should’ve kicked them out at the time. Until this ride at least. I let them stay, and fumed through the rest of the trip at the audacity of them to light up in the first place, and then the self-entitlement to complain about not being able to smoke when they were paying for the car ride, and how other riders let them smoke. Looking back on it the next morning, I resolved to not let that happen again, and that I would take a hard line with smokers in the future. It also meant that when much later I put signs up in the car relating to my Ubering, the first thing I knew to put on the sign was “No Smoking”.

A visual representation of what the car smells like when you get in just after having a smoke.
But smoking in an Uber isn’t the only way for a smoker to annoy, frustrate or anger an Uber driver. Though so far I’ve only had one person try to smoke in the car – and no one else ask for permission and be denied – I’ve had plenty of people who have been standing on the kerb or footpath, and when they’ve spotted me coming down the street or when I’ve pulled up in front of them, they’ve dropped the cigarette they’d been smoking to the ground, usually put it out with their foot, then get in the car. Just like them spotting me triggers them to get rid of the cigarette, seeing them get rid of it gets me cringing at the thought of them getting in the car. Not only that, but its the only thing so far that has meant passengers have lost a star from their rating from me before they get in the car.

Though this shouldn’t surprise smokers, the smell stays with you and gets into the car next to you as though you were bringing a friend. It also shouldn’t surprise smokers that sometimes that “friend” sticks around in the car long after you’ve gotten out. Not only do I have to put up with the smell, but if it does stick around and can’t be overcome by putting the windows down to air out the car and turning the air freshener up to max to try and deal with it, then the next passenger also has to deal with the smell. I know if I got into an Uber that smelled of cigarette smoke, I’d make sure I rated the driver, and it wouldn’t be a “5”.

So if you get into my car smelling of cigarettes – or any other foul smell for that matter – assuming I’m not being instantly choked out and so cancel the ride on you, you’re guaranteed to get no higher than a 4-star rating. I know plenty of other drivers feel the same way too. Whereas you get the choice to rate the driver or not, drivers have to rate passengers at the end of every trip, and a smell hanging around helps to remind us to rate lower. Unless its bad enough to cancel the ride before it starts, you’re rating is going to drop if you stink of smoke.

Simple tip… Don’t smoke in the car, or just before you get in the car: you stink!

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.

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.

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:

IMG_0141
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.

McDonalds car parks cause flat tyres

McDonalds car parks are a menace. How many tyres must be punctured before their reign of terror will be brought to an end. How long before someone thinks I’m being serious about this, and not just blowing it all out of proportion for the sake of the combination of a joke and maybe a few extra page visits?

A field of abandoned tyres
The many, many victims of McDonalds car parks.

First up, that title is just my attempt at a click-bait style headline. Even my own empirical evidence says that McDonalds car parks are very safe for you tyres, as I’ve been to various different McDonalds car parks on multiple occasions – more than is likely good for my own personal health – without issue. However, I’ve gotten a flat tyre on two different occasions, and both times have been after going into a McDonalds. The last time it happened I didn’t notice until I’d finished up at work (in an office, pre-Uber), so it only meant I was delayed in getting home. (In case you’re wondering, I’d gotten a Sausage McMuffin meal for breakfast, and on the way out of the drive-thru heard a crack, but continued on to work and parked. When I got back to the car, the front tyre was as flat as the tack that could have done the same damage.)

This time its meant essentially missing out on a day’s work, and I didn’t even get breakfast for it. I’d gotten my first ride for the day, and it was to take the passenger to McDonalds. Though I didn’t ask and only really half saw what he was wearing, I remembered the smell well enough from my own Olympic-level McDonalds career to know that this guy was going to work. Not (much) of a problem, given that after he got out of the car and I was out of his sight, I stopped to turn up the air freshener and spray some deodorant where he’d been sitting. After working my way back to the main road, I started to hear a sort of hum that I hadn’t heard in the car before, and I couldn’t work out where it was coming from.

I kept driving, noting that the hum got louder and softer, pitching higher and lower as I sped up and slowed down. I was almost literally scratching my head at what it could be. The gearbox was set to D-drive. I didn’t have the hand brake on at all. I checked that all the windows were up properly. I checked to see if the seatbelt the guy had just used was caught in the door and was being caught in the wind of the car. I couldn’t work it out, and the only theory I had – which turned out to not be too far off the mark – was that with the increased amount of roadkill I’d been seeing around lately, that something had gotten caught on a tyre and was causing the hum.

Regardless of what was causing it, I wasn’t noticing any issues with driving so let it go and continued on, particularly when I got a new pickup request. I put the sound to the back of my mind and headed to the pickup point. I pulled up, and within a few moments the passengers came out with a roller suitcase. Bingo, a trip to the airport! It wasn’t guaranteed, but given how close we were to a train station, if it wasn’t going to be to the airport then it was still likely a decent length trip. It turned out I was right, as once I started the trip the destination was confirmed as the domestic terminal of the airport. The luggage was loaded, the passengers got in, and off we went.

We got as far as the end of the street. At that point, while waiting for traffic to clear, a pedestrian crossing the street helpfully pointed out the flat tyre to me. I found somewhere to pullover, told the passengers they’d need to get a new ride because of the flat tyre, and that if there was going to be a fee for the “ride” I’d given them I’d arrange for it to be refunded. So after they were on their way, I had the NRMA come out, and tweeted this:

Thankfully the NRMA were prompt to arrive and help me out with the flat. Unfortunately, the spare was only a temporary fix, rated to only work up to 80kph, and a total distance of 160km. While that would probably be okay, it could cause issues depending on where any rides might take me, and with no spare tyre up my sleeve, even by avoiding McDonalds car parks I would be flying closer to the sun than would be ideal.

So folks, if you’re out there on the road, and feeling hungry and decide to go to a McDonalds, be careful and make sure you have a spare tyre and its ready to go. If you do decide to risk a McDonalds car park – or that of Hungry Jacks, Oporto or any other fast food place – are stuck waiting for someone to come help you out with a flat tyre or other vehicular issue, or you’re just in your car (parked!) and need a flat surface for something, then this steering wheel tray may just cone in handy.  

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.