Pick Up Points: Helping the driver find you

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

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

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

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

Be Ready To Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Locatable

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

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

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

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

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

Be Recognisable

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

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

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Timing [your Uber trip request] is everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cancellation Fees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!

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!