Hello, is it me you’re looking for?

I can see it in your eyes, I can see it in your smile, You’re the reason I’m pulling up at the kerb and putting my hazard lights on, hoping not to get booked for stopping in a No Stopping zone.

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The map says I’m coming from the exact opposite direction you’re looking, but I’m sure you’ll spot me soon enough…
I’ve spoken about “The Look” before. It’s something we drivers learn to recognise to help give us a chance in picking out who our passenger is for the next ride we’re about to go on. It usually involves someone standing on the footpath, holding their phone and looking between it and up the road towards the cars coming towards them. It’s easier when there’s luggage on the ground next to them (as well as a clue that we’re likely heading to the airport) and a source of frustration (and temptation to cancel) when their smoking a cigarette, doubly so when they spot you and immediately go to put the cigarette out.

A quick personal observation is that it often seems these people are looking in the wrong direction in that glance up from their phone. That’s despite having just seen which direction their driver is coming from, courtesy of the map in the app on their phone. Yes, they could be looking at something other than the Uber app, such as emails, Twitter, an extremely well written blog that hasn’t been updated in a while, hoping to see a new entry to brighten their day. And yes, I could be remembering the ones who look the wrong way more so than the ones who look in the right direction. Even so, there’s more that look the other way than you might think.

Anyway, where was I? Right; the Look. One of the reasons why we pick up on the cues passengers give is that we often don’t have much else to go on. As a passenger, you get to see the name of the driver, but also a photo of their face, the make and model of the car they’re driving as well as its number plate. Also, if you’re tracking the car and are outside by the road ready for it to arrive, you get to match it up with the timing of its arrival and the direction its coming from. To be fair the last one can be off if the GPS is spotty where you are getting picked up from, but you should still be able to get an idea from all of that combined.

On the other side of that equation, drivers get the name of the passenger and the location to pick them up from. Now let’s ignore the possibility that the person who made the ride request might not be the person actually getting in the car. I’ve had numerous rides where a spouse or partner has booked the ride for their significant other. Parents have booked rides for their child or vice versa. Sometimes friends have booked for friends. In one case, an assistant or similarly professionally-related person booked the ride for a former presenter on a children’s ABC TV show. (Hint: that week we went through the round window to my childhood.)

Even assuming the person who booked the ride is the person, or at least one of the people going on the ride, its still tricky for the driver. Though the name can be a clue to help the driver know who to look out for, sometimes they can be useless. To be fair, most of the time they at least give some indication of gender. “John” is a pretty strong clue that I should be looking for a man, “Amy” is likewise a pretty good indicator to keep an eye out for a woman. On the rare occasion that the name shown is a series of non-English characters generally indicate that I’m looking for someone of Asian heritage, or on a couple of occasions someone from the Middle East. On the flip side of this is when I see a name like “Sam”, “Alex” or “Chris”, or ones that I’ve not heard before or otherwise don’t recognise. There I don’t know the gender or ethnicity, so it could be anyone.

Also the location for the pickup isn’t always a helpful indicator either. Sometimes its that the pickup is actually from number 26 instead of 28 as it says in the app. Perhaps its a building that’s on the corner of an intersection, and neither side is obviously “the front” or the likely candidate for someone to wait for a car. Other times its the combination of the app deciding to not indicate which side of the road the pickup is set for, and not being able to see which side of the street has the even or odd numbers. (For the record, if you’re wondering why your Uber driver doesn’t come down your long driveway for the pickup, this is probably why. If its an issue, call them when they’re on their way!) And then there are the times where there’s nowhere legal, or at least out of other people’s way, to stop making it difficult to wait for someone who may or may not be waiting in view for me.

Most of the time its not an issue. I show up, and either the passenger is there waiting for me at the right spot and gets in straight away, or I find the spot and the passenger comes to me. On occasion though it doesn’t work out. There are times where I will never know what went wrong, because I waited the minimum five minutes with no sign of anyone even looking my way let alone coming to the car, and no contact from the passenger through the app, so I cancelled the trip and moved on. Other times they cancel on me, with or without notice, and possibly before or after I arrive at the location. Then there are the weird ones where someone else gets in the car. There’s been four times in several thousand trips I’ve accepted where someone has gotten in my car and not been my allocated passenger.

I don’t really understand how that’s possible, especially given how often I’ll see my eventual passenger double- and triple-check the number plate of my car against what’s on their phone, followed up by a tap on the passenger window while mouthing “Uber” at me, and then followed by opening the door and asking “Are you <name>?”

At the end of the day, no matter how sure we might be that you are our passenger, we never know it until you actually get in. Sometimes not even then. So please help us out. Pay attention to what’s happening around you, and look for your driver and their car. You’re more likely to identify us definitively than we are you.

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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.

Multi-Stop Trips: How to Uber all over town in one go

Picking up another passenger on the way? Dropping someone off before the final destination? Got a series of stops to make before the ride’s over? Some thoughts on how to handle a multi-stop Uber trip.

When I first came up with the idea to write about this topic, I’d had a few a trips in a row where people wanted to stop at several points rather than the standard point A to point B trips that are so much more common. Each time I had one there were variations on how the passengers had initially requested their ride and how they presented the situation to me when they got in. In the lead up to posting this I was thinking through what I felt would be the best way to handle this sort of situation. The other day I even had two trips in a row from the one passenger, the first ride being straight forward and the second having three different stops. It helped to remind me that I should post about this soon.

And then I saw an update in the app and I thought “Well there goes that blog post…“:

We're making multiple stops smoother
For the uninitiated, this is usually how Uber announces things to drivers.

So instead of talking about my detailed theories about the best way to manipulate the Uber system to handle a trip with several stops and be as simple for both you the passenger and for your driver to handle, I figured this would be about how to do it with the system.

How It Works

Its pretty darn simple really, particularly if you’ve ever plotted out a multi-stop trip in Google Maps.

Tap on the “Where to?” box same as always, but whereas before you’d start typing straight away, tap the “+” symbol that comes up next to where you’d type in your destination. You’ll see the screen change a little, including the “Where to?” box change to “Add a stop”. Once you’ve done that, enter the details for the first stop on the journey as you would normally. Once that’s done you’ll see another “Add a stop” box below where the first one was. Keep repeating the process, adding the next stop, then the next, and so on until the full journey has been entered.

Once set, hit “Save” and the app will show you the path for the full journey as it does normally. Don’t be surprised if the path doesn’t look particularly straight, as it will go from point to point to point. After that it works the same way as a normal trip. If you’ve left out a stop, made a mistake, or just want to check that you’ve set it all up correctly, tap on either the beginning or end point of the trip to bring up the list of stops again, and make any changes you need to.

Please Be Nice

This is a new feature. Obviously that means that there may be some changes along the way to how its implemented and how its used. Uber don’t intentionally make things hard to use, so if my instructions here are out of date, either they likely won’t be too far off or it will be relatively easy to work out.

Another element to this being new is that drivers won’t necessarily be familiar with it. I’m a full-time driver and I haven’t seen it in action yet. If you get a part-time driver, its even less likely that they’ll know what’s happening automatically if you’re booking a multi-stop trip.

My point here is it’d be mighty appreciated by your driver just to mention that there’s going to be multiple stops. Besides just being polite, it lets the driver know what to expect when you get to the first stop. If either there’s been a problem with the booking or you’ve made a mistake without realising it, it also means the driver can adjust to the situation and hopefully make the whole ride experience as smooth as possible.

Coming from Sydney Airport: Domestic Terminal – a follow up

Something to help both passengers and drivers to get away from the airport quickly, smoothly and a little less painfully. And not just for those using Uber either.

priority pick up tunnel
The tunnel from the terminal buildings to the priority pick-up area. Though its not the best view, if you look closely you can see a part of the problem I’m talking about.

Last month I posted about using Uber in relation to the domestic terminal at Sydney Airport. One of the things I wrote about was that when requesting an Uber pick up from the terminal, to go to the priority pick-up area. There is a detail that I left out that in my head was obvious to everyone, but apparently not. It’s to do with where people stand when waiting for their ride, and where they actually get into the car that’s picking them up.

I think the issue comes at least in part from the nature of the pick-up area itself. To the best of my knowledge, its an area that’s been converted and adapted from some other use, rather than it being something that was there from the beginning in the design of the domestic airport. Anyone who’s at all familiar with the layout of the domestic airport knows that its two separate terminal buildings on either side of an elongated loop of road, with a number of car parking areas inside the loop which also double as space for car rental agencies. An area in the middle of these car parks has been carved out for the priority pick-up area.

The passengers looking to be picked up in this area cross the road from the terminal building their plane pulled up from, and follow the signs along an above ground tunnel to the area itself, and here is where the problem lies. Essentially in the middle of the pick-up area is a utility building of some kind. I don’t know what its for, though it being connected in some way to the underground train station for the domestic terminal wouldn’t surprise me, because the non-airport entrance/exit to the station is only a very short distance a way. The issue is that the main waiting area for passengers in the pick-up area is on the other side of this building from where passengers arrive. There’s also what could appear to be a waiting area for passengers on the “near”-side of the utility building.

All of that means that – especially for people who are new to the city, new to the airport, new to using Uber from the airport, or are just not used to the system don’t know to keep walking to the other side of the building, especially if there are a few people already standing around. Not only does it make it harder for the passengers to see the car their looking for because they can only spot it as the car rounds the corner about 10 metres away, but it tends to block up the single lane of cars trying to move between the utility building and the edge of the pick-up area.
Anyone who drives knows that seeing a group of people standing on the footpath right next to a pedestrian crossing is problematic, because you can’t be sure whether any of those people – or the ones you might not be able to see on the other side of the group – are actually trying to cross the road or not. In this case, the car’s probably already going slowly so that’s not too big an issue here, but having to slow down or stop because of the people crossing means that at least some passengers waiting in this spot see their ride essentially stop in front of them, and decide that they should get in the car while they can. If its just one or two people getting in, with no luggage or at least nothing that needs to go in the boot, that can be done often be done with little or no impact on the flow of cars. But if there’s several passengers, a number of bags for the boot, or even just passengers that aren’t being as quick as they can to get in the car, it can cause the cars behind to come to a stop, causing a knock on effect back up the chain. At some times of day that can cause big issues for a lot of other people.

This same effect can happen near the car entrance to the pick-up area. It’s especially likely if there’s already a bit of a hold up to the flow of traffic, which may be coming from the issue I just mentioned. If the drivers and passengers involved are paying attention the effect can at least be minimised as there’s more space for other cars to go around the stopped car in the pick-up, but it can still result in the entrance to the car park being blocked off, again causing a queue of cars to form over quite a distance at the wrong time of day.

In an ideal world, passengers would wait near the car entrance, paying attention so that they can spot the car that’s picking them up as early as possible. They’d then wave or otherwise signal to their car – generally speaking this area is for professional pick-ups, so the driver won’t likely know what their passenger looks like. When this works, IO then signal to my passenger where I’m going to stop to let them in, usually with just a simple point to the direction I’m headed. In my head it doesn’t just let them know where to walk to, but also an acknowledgment that I’ve seen them (if I haven’t already done that) so they don’t think I’m either not paying attention, partially blind, or just being rude and ignoring them. The key element of this though is that they wait for me to pull up in a parking spot – or at least somewhere as out of the way as possible depending on the levels of chaos at the time – rather than trying to get in when I happen to almost stop for some other reason. I can then get out to help them with their luggage if they need it, whether it be hefting their things into the boot, playing Tetris with their bags so they’ll all fit, or just getting the boot open as some people have struggled with the door in the past, possibly thinking I’d locked it or wasn’t remotely opening it for them. (For the record, my current car doesn’t have that feature.)

So please help us drivers – both professional and… Amateur? Recreational? Social? Not sure what they right term is here – to keep things smooth not just for yourself but for everyone in the vicinity. Taking just a few extra steps along the path will help everyone, and the happier your driver is, the less likely any little jiggly things will seem big enough to rate you less than 5-stars.

Sydney Airport: Train v Uber

A not-at-all in-depth comparison of the costs of travelling from the Sydney Airport via train versus via Uber.

Before I go into today’s article, I want to mention something up front. On Sunday – when this was written – a construction crane collapsed onto an apartment building in Wolli Creek. At the time of writing, three people were reported injured, with the most serious being a possible broken leg. In addition to this, 200 residents of both buildings affected were evacuated. (The building the crane collapsed on, and the building it had been mounted on.) There are two reasons why I mention this up front:

  1. It’s what prompted me to publish this post, even though the incident itself isn’t Uber-related.
  2. I am aware that the people I’m going to refer to here were affected in a comparatively minor way. Obviously those injured and evacuated had and have it much worse.

If it seems like I’m being disrespectful to or dismissive of them, that is definitely not my intention. Except to say that I hope their situation is dealt with quickly, safely and fairly, I won’t be talking any further about them only because they’re not part of a topic relevant to this site.

Sunday mornings can be interesting times to drive with Uber. In fact Sundays tend to be pretty good throughout the day. Whereas on a weekday there’s usually a lull around lunch time, Sunday’s are pretty consistent in terms of being able to find passengers wanting a ride. The usual reason Sunday mornings are interesting is the number of passengers making the “Uber of shame” from the night before.

Last Sunday had a couple of rides that seemed like they could’ve qualified for that, one of which got me close to the airport. Knowing from experience what at least Melbourne and Brisbane Airports are like on Sundays, I figured it wouldn’t take too long for the queue of drivers to cycle through and for me to get a decent fare, so I headed to the domestic terminal waiting area. I wasn’t wrong, though the reason the queue moved as quickly as it did wasn’t one I was expecting.

When I first got to the pick-up area I was surprised by how quiet it looked. Given the speed with which the queue had moved for me I expected there to be quite a few people waiting to be picked up, along with a corresponding number of cars waiting for their passengers to appear. Instead it looked fairly empty. As a drove around the u-shape of the pick-up area, I got to a point where I could see where the passengers would be walking to reach the car park, and the outside entrance to the train station. What I saw there was not dissimilar to this:

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Imagine this at the station entrance, but everyone has at least one large bag or suitcase with them. That’s roughly what it looked like on the day.
As I was processing this I saw someone waving at me who turned out to be my passenger, so I didn’t get much of a chance to sort it out in my head. (I’m sure you already have, but any friends of mine reading this, this is a perfect opportunity for you to make a joke about not being able to sort it out even if I had plenty of time to do it. Your welcome.) They told me that there’d been some sort of incident that meant the Airport train line was closed. Apparently it had only recently happened, with passengers being directed to different places by different people to catch replacement buses that were being organised but hadn’t started to arrive yet.

After I dropped the passenger off, I did some checking and sure enough found this alert:

I continued on through my day, while seeing similar scenes at Sydenham and Mascot stations, with people waiting at bus stops for their replacement bus (or in my case, their Uber) to arrive. When I got home, I saw some tweets that indicated people weren’t happy with how leaving Sydney Airport had gone:

What I found interesting and surprising with these and others that I saw, was that the people complaining seemed to be unaware of Uber. Whether they had never heard of it, had the idea that it wasn’t allowed for pick-ups at the airport (it’s been OK for over a year now), thought it was more expensive than using the train, or some other reason I don’t know. (It’s also possible that they reject the idea of using Uber given recent negative press. I would hope that’s not the case, for fairly obvious reasons.)

In terms of cost, I don’t have all the details and though the cost for a train trip is relatively easy to find out ahead of time, the cost of Uber trips are a little more tricky, given that they depend on the specific route and time taken for the trip. What I can do is show you the comparison between trips I’ve actually done and the costs for a trip to the nearest station. Like this:

[table id=1 /]

To keep things above board, the costs for the train trips come from Sydney Trains themselves, and were correct when written. (If poked about it to remind me, I’ll probably update them if prices change while this site is still active.) Any costs relating to getting from the station to the destination would be on top of these. The costs for the Uber fares are using UberX, from real rides I’ve driven since a couple of weeks before the date this is published. They include all costs to the passenger relating to the fare such as tolls, and have the potential to vary a bit based on the time of day the ride took place and the traffic on the route taken.

Also keep in mind that those train trip fares are for one person when an UberX can fit up to four people, though possibly less if you’ve got a lot of luggage, and that the Uber trip is right to your destination, which means unless you live on top of or at a train station you’ll either have less distance to walk with your bags, won’t have to get a bus or other ride from the station to where you’re going, or both.

So it seems that for short trips near the airport, Uber is cheaper than getting the train. It makes sense since the minimum Uber fare in Sydney is $9, less than the airport station access fee. A little beyond that and the train is cheaper for one person, but more expensive for two. Uber trips to the city that have to go through the city (so around the harbour foreshore) tend to be about the same cost as between two or three people on the train. None of the fares I’ve done in the time frame shown have been more expensive than four equivalent train fares.

Generally speaking, getting the train from the airport will be cheaper for one person than getting an Uber. The more people travelling though, the more likely that an Uber will be the cheaper option. But remember:

  • The train doesn’t get you to your front door, meaning either a walk, bus, taxi, Uber or ride from a friend to get all the way home. An Uber will go all the way in one go.
  • You may have to wait up to 15 minutes for the train to arrive to pick you up. An Uber will normally take no more than 5 minutes to arrive.
  • There’s no one to help you with your luggage on the train. Most Uber drivers will at least help you get your luggage into and out of their car.
  • Unless you happen to be on the airport line, you’ll have to change trains to get to your destination. An Uber will take you door-to-door.
  • Its tough getting even a section of a train carriage, let alone the whole thing to yourself. That means other people’s conversations, music, food, and general life intruding on your’s. You don’t share an Uber except with your friends or family. Your driver won’t force conversation or weird smells on you and will let you listen to your music in peace.
  • The closest thing to climate control on a train is being able to open a window, and that’s generally only on the older carriages. You can adjust the windows, adjust the temperature of the AC, even the direction the air vents point in an Uber.

With all those benefits – and any others you might think of – is it worth the money you might save to get the train instead of an Uber? Next time I’m flying somewhere, I know how I’ll be getting to and from the airport…

Windows into a driver’s soul

You know how there’s some things that happen to you that are really just tiny and insignificant, but in the moment feel like the most frustrating thing to ever happen? Uber drivers have those too.

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This being left behind by a passenger could leave a driver scarred for life. Or annoyed for two seconds. Either way its definitely a big deal, unless its not in any way.

Everyone has something that annoys them all out of proportion to the actual discomfort caused. Its usually something really simple, and probably has little to no actual impact on your day. If you’ve ever got the bottle of milk out of the fridge to find that though not technically empty, its not enough for what you’re wanting it. There’s another full bottle in the fridge, but the tiny amount left is just plain annoying.

Driver’s have their own sets of annoyances. Though there are a multitude of things that drive people up the wall when their on the roads, there are few that fit in this category. If you’re someone who follows me on Twitter – and let’s face it, if you’re reading this blog then there’s a good chance you follow me on Twitter – you may well have gotten an idea about one such annoyance I deal with:

Like I said, its a problem that’s so small that labelling it as a “first world problem” would massively inflate the scale of it. One response I got to the tweet helped to highlight just how small an issue it is:

Yes, I have controls for all of the windows on my armrest, so once I realise that a window’s down its extremely, even ridiculously easy for me to put them back up. I know that in days gone by when the driver couldn’t control the position of the windows remotely like that, I’d’ve had some level of justification in my gripe; having to awkwardly reach across the car to reach the controls, or in even earlier days having to move over to that seat to manually roll the window back up.

On the day I’d had two passengers for the one ride, both of whom left their windows down when they got out. They were the prompt for me to tweet about it in the first place, though they were nowhere near the first passengers to do this. Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure I accidentally invoked the wrath of whatever from high atop the thing (gotta keep you West Wing fans happy with the references) by tweeting about it, because later that morning, once the rain settled in properly after a series of spits and spurts, the next passenger I had prompted this tweet:

If any of you are concerned, I seemingly appeased the gods at least temporarily by driving around a backstreet roundabout three times, spitting out curses. (And if that’s got you confused, watching this YouTube clip may help.)

I ask, for the sake of my fleeting hold on sanity, and that of my Uber-driving brothers and sisters, if you put the window down while you’re in a car, please put it back up before you go. I think you’ll agree its literally the least we could ask of you. I’d also point out that, as was sort of the case in a previous job I had, though this wouldn’t be enough for me to rate you down if you did it in my car, not everyone who does my job has the same standards, and even if normally they wouldn’t, if they’re having a bad day this might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Please, just put your windows up!

When Your Passenger Can’t Find You, Right In Front Of Their Nose

Sometimes Uber drivers can struggle to find the right place for the pickup. The GPS points to the wrong bit of road, the roads are confusing because they’re as far from being grid-like as possible. The street numbers just can’t be seen. But sometimes you’re in the exact right spot, so is the passenger, but they still can’t find you.

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“I know the app says the Uber driver’s arrived here, and there’s a car that pulled up right in front of me about the time the app said he arrived, but where is that Uber?”

Most of the time when I’ve written about things that have happened to me, in my vicinity, or that were caused by me, generally there’s been some separation in time between their occurrence and their appearance here. But this story is prompted by two events that occurred yesterday, so its as hot off the presses as I’ve gotten.

Sometimes it can be tricky for an Uber driver to work out exactly where to park the car to pickup the passenger. Given that a specific location for the pickup is provided to the driver, accompanied by GPS-based directions to that location from wherever they were when they accepted the ride, I can understand some people reading that last sentence and thinking I’m a bumbling fool that should never get behind the wheel of a car, let alone do so professionally. There are all sorts of reasons why an intelligent, fully awake and sober driver might get a little confused. They’re usually relatively minor things, like when a building is on a corner or when the street numbers aren’t visible (usually at night) so you can’t tell which side of the road to be on. (Both of these are easier when the passenger is ready, standing on the footpath, and has been paying enough attention to know you’re their driver and signals you as you approach. *cough* hint! *cough*) Once I had a situation where the GPS coordinates and the street number didn’t match up, so there was literally two possiblities for where I was supposed to be. Thankfully that confusing situation has only happened the one time. So far.

Most of the time there’s no problem from the driver’s end. Even when there’s something that could cause an issue, either locations that could have multiple pickup points – train stations that have entrances on both sides of the tracks are a common one for this – or situations where there’s lots of people around so finding each other will be difficult, the really helpful passengers will get in touch and clarify the situation: “I’m at the bus stand, standing outside the newsagents,” or “I’m wearing the green shirt with the red backpack,”… you get the idea. Every once in a while though, you’ll be in the exact right spot for the pickup and the passenger still won’t be able to find you.

Like I said before, it happened to me twice yesterday. Though both are at least somewhat understandable when you get the full picture, they are still a little odd. The first one was in the morning, where I was picking someone up from the international terminal at Sydney Airport. It was a busy time, with cars in all of the available spaces and then some. I managed to find a spot, and as the spots go in that car park probably one of the most easily visible ones. Once I pulled up, I did my customary scan of the area, looking for someone that had either spotted me and was headed my way, or had what I call “The Look”. I would guess that every person who’s driven for Uber would recognise it, and has probably used it to correctly pick the passenger from a group of people before they’ve even noticed you. It’s mostly holding their phone out in front of them, looking at it with a fairlay intense amount of concentration, and then looking up around them, depending on the circumstances either where they think you’re approaching from or scanning the parked cars around them for you. I don’t know what my success rate is in picking passengers out this way, but I’ll bet its higher than you’d expect given the only fact we’ve got to identify them is a name.

Anyway, I did my scan and though there were a few contenders none were jumping out at me. After a few moments I sent my usual message to the passenger explaining I’d arrived and roughly where I was in the car park. (Note to Sydney Airport people: using some sort of numbering system like in shopping centre car parks would be very helpful for both terminals. Being able to tell passengers that I was at spot A7 would be much faster and easier to understand for everyone.) Just as I send it, I get a call from the passenger. I’m pretty that because of the timing they haven’t seen my message, and so answer the call. They ask if I’ve arrived yet and where I am. I can hear wind in the background so I know that unless they’ve gone to the wrong place – not unusual for the international terminal, especially for foreign visitors – they should be visible, and because I’d just scanned for them I knew that most of the people around were in front of me.

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Hey buddy, that car you’re waiting for is the blue one behind you. At the location you set for the pick up instead of where you’re standing.

As I’m talking I look around, and sure enough the only person on the phone is at most five metres away from my car. Watching him speak, I see the normal delay of a second or two between his lips moving and sound coming through the phone, but that the two are otherwise synchronised. It’s odd the first few times you notice it, but the delay is kind of like making an international call in the old days where you’d ask a question and wait what felt like days for the response. A few brief instructions later (“I’m the white car that’s on your left… No, you’ve turned you’re head too far. Back a bit to the right and then right in front of you… Yes, that’s me.”) and we’d sorted it out and on our way to the destination.

The other event was at the end of the day for me. I’m guessing most Sydney-siders would’ve heard at least something about a burst water main in Hurstville yesterday. It caused a lot of problems for people trying to get to or from there through out the day, especially for people relying on buses to transport them apparently. Well this passenger of mine was trying to get home, and discovered the issues of the buses from Hurstville station so tried to get an Uber from there, but King Georges Road being blocked off made traffic in the area a nightmare, meaning an Uber from there was going to take forever to arrive, so she got back on a train to another station and tried again. As relayed to me, the first Uber she requested from there just drove past her (a phone conversation with someone else once we were on our way suggested that she thought she might have accidentally cancelled the ride), so she made another request, got me, and called me as it happened just as I was looking for a spot to park. she wanted to make sure that I knew where I was going because of the difficulties she’d had – I’d later find out she’d been delayed in getting home by at least two hours. I explained that I couldn’t find a spot to pull over as I’d driven past, and had just found a place to make a safe u-turn and was literally in the process of doing so, and would be there in maybe sixty seconds. (This call was all on hands free for anyone concerned on that point.)

Sure enough I got back to the spot which was a dedicated pick up/drop off point for the station. There were already a couple of cars there, with a SUV right in front of me, meaning my car was going to be harder to spot. I was pretty confident I could see my passenger standing at the kerb through the windows of the car in front. I was about to call the passenger to let her know I was there, when I realised that all of the cars in front of me had their indicators on to pull out. A few moments later they did and I moved up next to the potential passenger, but they didn’t get in. They still had The Look, so I assumed they were waiting for someone else. No one else was around with anything like The Look, so figured they’d ducked into a shop while they were waiting for me to come back after the phone call. Not great etiquette from them if that was the case, but not a big deal.

A minute or so later I got another call from the passenger. She wanted to know where I was, and I explained I was right on top of the pick up point. She asked me if I could see the Subway that she’d said she was in front of before, so I started looking around and sure enough, the woman I’d picked out when I’d first pulled up, who was still standing in the same spot she’d been in the whole time which was now about level with my rear bumper, was now on the phone. Just at the moment I confirmed it was her via the same international-style phone delay, she realised who I was and got in the car slightly embarrassed. Though in both cases I was a little frustrated at the delays involved – though only a minute or so at a time, they can add up, and its time we don’t get paid for unless the passenger winds up being a no-show, and even then that’s still an issue – it was both minor enough and slightly amusing to me to not be a problem. I found out about the delays she’d had in getting home, a tough day at work, and the need to pack for a flight the next morning had all combined to leave her a little frazzled, understandably so.

If you request an Uber and are having problems connecting with the driver, remember that you’re phone will show you where we are. Though neither of these passengers got accusational about what I was doing and why I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, some in the past have and almost certainly some will be in the future. Though us drivers are by no means perfect, just because a mistake is made doesn’t mean it’s automatically been made by the driver.

Going to and coming from Sydney Airport: Domestic Terminal

The ins and outs of getting in and out of Sydney Airport’s domestic terminal.

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Sydney Airport, with the Domestic Terminal (T2 & T3) on the left
and the International Terminal (T1) at the bottom

Two weeks ago I posted about using Uber at the international terminal of Sydney Airport. It was originally going cover both terminals but it started to get to be a bit long overall, so this week you get the second half, covering the domestic terminal.

Now just as last week I gave a disclaimer, I’m giving the same one here as well: things change. I can all but guarantee that at some point after this is originally posted, either Sydney Airport or Uber will change how they operate and at least some part of this post will no longer be correct. Though I’ll try my best to update it if there are changes, if the date on this is long in the past when you’re reading it, you can always check Ride Uber at Sydney Airport for the latest info from Uber themselves.

Heading to the airport

If you’re going to be flying somewhere within Australia, you’ll be flying out of the domestic terminal. However there’s a snag that can catch some people up: the domestic terminal is actually two seperate buildings: T2 and T3. (T1 is the international terminal, in case you’re wondering.) Now your boarding pass, itinerary, or whatever other documentation you’ve got for your flight will probably indicate T2 or T3, but don’t be too concerned about remembering or forgetting that detail. Just remember which airline you’re flying with: Qantas domestic flights fly out of T3, while all other domestic flights fly out of T2. I expect most drivers will check with you at some point on the trip about either which terminal or which airline you’re using, as though its not nearly as bad as being at the international terminal by mistake, being dropped off at the wrong building and getting to the correct one ranges from ‘minor inconvenience’ if you’ve got plenty of time to ‘#$%@&^’ if you’re supposed to be boarding the plane right now.

Leaving the Airport

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Make sure you’re being picked up from the domestic terminal.

The basic process is pretty much the same for the domestic terminal as it is for the international, just some of the details are a little different. You’re looking for the “Priority Pickup Area” rather than the express, and instead of yellow signs you should follow the green signs. (Just to be slightly confusing, there is an express pickup area for the domestic terminal, and like at the international terminal, its marked by yellow signs. To be less confusing, the path to the express pickup area is the same as the priority one, only you continue past the priority area to reach the express.) For those of you who have an idea about the layout of the domestic terminal, the priority pickup area is in between T2 and T3, part of the parking structures for them.

The pickup area is essentially split in two, with a covered area for passengers to wait in the middle. Cars enter the area on the right-hand side (when facing the way you were when you enter the area) and leave from the left. Assuming you don’t spot your driver’s car as you approach and enter the area – or haven’t heard from them letting you know exactly where they are – by all means head where everyone else is likely to be waiting: the covered area, facing the vehicle entrance to the car park.

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Confirm you’re pick up from the Priority Pick-Up area.

However, please don’t expect your driver to wait just inside the entrance for you to get in their car, especially if you have luggage that may need to be loaded in the boot. Though it is easy for the driver to stop there, its very difficult for anyone else to get past the car, causing delays for everyone. In fact if you get to the pickup area ahead of your driver and its a busy period, you may notice others do the same thing, blocking the entrance and delaying your driver in arriving. When I enter the pickup area, I scan the faces of the waiting passengers for a look of recognition headed my way. (A wave at me works too.) If they start heading my way I’ll signal them that I’m headed around the other side. This means they won’t have to go to far, I can pull up out of the way of the other cars, I can park in a valid spot to help with any luggage they have – whether it be just getting it into the car, or putting down seats and tetris-ing the bags to fit into the space – and it’ll save them a tiny amount on the fare for the shorter distance and time on the ride. Likewise if I don’t get any recognition, I head to the that other side. (Its marked as the “B” area, with “A” being the entrance side, and “C” being the expanded area that’s under cover from the rest of the parking structure, and in my experience at least is rarely actually used.) That’s where I send my “here I am” message to the rider from.

It applies to every ride, especially at the airport where it isn’t always clear how everything is supposed to work, and even more especially to the occassional flyer, but if you aren’t sure where you are, where you’re supposed to be, or how to get there, let your driver know. Chances are we’ve got some familiarity with the airport’s layout, and we have a chance to help work out what the problem is. (And it can help avoid accidental trans-continental rides, too.)

Going to and coming from Sydney Airport: International Terminal

The ins and outs of getting in and out of Sydney Airport’s international terminal.

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The international terminal (T1) at Sydney Airport.

You’re either flying in or out of Sydney. You’ve got plenty of luggage. You don’t want to bug a friend to give you a lift to the airport, or you don’t have a friend to pick you up because you’re on holidays/business trip/something that means you either don’t know anyone here or don’t know them well enough to bug them to pick you up. Public transport won’t work either, because that luggage is going to be awkward on the train or bus, and the ferry and light rail certainly won’t get you all the way.

Despite what some people out there seem to think, you can book an Uber both going to and coming from the airport. Some of the confusion may have come about because initially Sydney Airport didn’t let Uber do pick ups from there. Their reasoning didn’t make sense to me at the time – still doesn’t really – but that doesn’t matter too much now because they changed their minds; they couldn’t stop Ubers from dropping people off at the airport, and at least some passengers found sneaky ways of getting around the blocks that Uber put in the app to try and prevent the pickups from happening. The airport has even accepted Uber, providing areas for us to work at both terminals.

Please keep in mind that things change, particularly it seems at Sydney Airport. So while this information is as correct as I can make it at the moment, if you’re reading this in the future it might be out of date. I’ll endeavor to post updates if and when they’re needed, but just in case you see the official information from Uber at Ride Uber at Sydney Airport.

Initially this post was going to cover both the international and domestic terminals, but it started to get quite long. I’ve split them out into two separate posts now, with this one talking about the international. (You probably guessed that from the title.) Next week’s post will be about the domestic terminal, which if its been posted by the time you’re reading this, will probably be linked to here.

Heading to the airport

Now getting to the airport in an Uber is about as simple as getting to anywhere else. There are a few things to keep in mind, particularly if you’re not a local. First, make sure you know which terminal you need to go to; the international and domestic terminals are on the opposite sides of the airport from each other, which means it is very helpful for your Uber driver to know which terminal you’re headed to ahead of time. Depending on the time of day, traffic around the airport can get a little bogged down. You’re driver will probably check with you when they pick you up which terminal you need to get to – I make sure I do – but putting the right one in as your destination when you book the ride may mean the difference between a panicked race to board your plane and a calm walk to the gate.

Leaving the airport

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Make sure you’re being picked up from the international terminal.

Uber recommends that for all airports it operates at to request your ride after you’ve “Elvis-ed”… You know, “left the building”. Certainly in the case of Sydney, there are rules about where someone can pick you up from, so once you’ve left the building it should at least minimize how far you’ll have to walk to the actual pick up point. Now where to go works a little differently depending on the specific type of Uber service you’ll use, so I’ll just talk about the main type that most people mean when they say “Uber”: UberX. (Please note, if you’re someone that uses the higher end Uber services like UberBLACK, I’m both happy that you’re reading my blog and surprised; if I’ve not yet set up some sort of donation feature when you’re reading this, feel free to contact me to arrange a donation through Twitter or the contact form to the side of this page.) In the app, it should recognize that you’re at the airport and give you an option between the “International” and “Domestic”, and once you’ve selected the international terminal it’ll confirm the pickup for “Express Pick-Up (Yellow)”. Once confirmed, your driver will be on their way.

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Confirm you’re pick up from the Express Pick-Up area.

As the app suggested, you’re looking for the “Express Pickup Area”, which you should be able to do by following yellow signs. As you come out of the terminal building, you’ll need to walk through the P7 parking building. There is a path you can follow, and unless it was a particularly empty flight or you’re either very fast or slow when walking, there should be a number of people going the same way.

After you come out of the car park building, you’ll need to cross a couple of roadways to get to the pickup area itself. When you’ve done that, you’ll see a covered pedestrian waiting area continuing away from the terminal, and parking areas on both sides of this: you’re Uber driver will be waiting for you on the right-hand side as you walk towards it, not the left – if they’re not waiting for you yet they’ll be making their way to that side.

When I’m picking someone up from here, when I pull up I do a quick scan of the people waiting, and if I don’t spot anyone headed my way or acknowledging me, I’ll send a text message through the Uber app to let them know I’ve made it, and if its particularly busy and so maybe difficult to spot my car amongst the others, I’ll also give some idea of where I’ve parked. If you get to the pickup area and haven’t heard from or found your driver, its a good idea to let your driver know you’re ready, and give them something to look for when they arrive. Remember that we only get your name on our end; we don’t know what you look like, we don’t know how many people are in your group or if you’re alone, or anything else that might help us out. Giving us an idea of whereabouts you are, or what you look like can help us find you and get you on your way to your destination that much faster.

You might be having trouble finding the pickup area. You or someone in your group might only be able to move fairly slowly for one reason or another. If that’s the case, I’d recommend letting your driver know. If a car is in the express pickup area for longer than 15 minutes, it costs the driver $8. Obviously we don’t want to pay that if we don’t have to, and I know that I’m not able to comfortably ask my passengers for the $8 and still legitimately hope for a 5-star rating. I also know that once we find each other, it’ll take a little bit of time to get the luggage packed into the car – especially if there’s a lot and it needs to be rearranged to fit, maybe one of the back seats put down – and to get actually get to the exit gates of the car park, so if I’ve not seen my passengers or heard from them within 10 minutes of entering the pickup area, I’m going to cancel the ride and leave.

However, if I’ve got a message or a call from them, and I know that they’re on the way and they’re just taking a bit more time than usual to get to the pickup area, I can keep the pickup request active and just leave the pickup area and come back to reset the time – essentially circling the block. That will generally be faster for you the passenger than having to make a new request and waiting for the new driver to arrive, especially if you don’t notice straight away that the first driver cancelled. When this happens I let the passenger know that I’m going to leave and come back, so they’re not “abandoned” if they arrive at the pickup area and I’m not there.

And that’s pretty much it. It might seem a little complicated, but plenty of people have done it, and I’ve had more than a few passengers mention to me after I’ve picked them up from the airport that it was their first Uber ride ever. Remember that if you do get confused, lost, or just don’t know what to do, contact your driver and let them know, and there’s a good chance they’ll be able to help you out. Also, the app notices when you’re near the airport and can offer some advice if you need it.