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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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.

looking-e1423852565370-1024x683[1]
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.

From Zero To “C**t” In Nothing Flat

Sometimes you do something that annoys someone, and though it wasn’t intentional you realise you were in the wrong. Then there are times where you’re acting normally, and someone goes bats**t crazy at you for it. This is one of the latter times.

Let me start this with a disclaimer: I know I’m not innocent. Though I think that the majority of times I’ve annoyed someone have been accidental – or at least meant in jest but perhaps taken past the point of humour – there have been times where I’ve purposely set out to irritate someone. Sometimes its been out in the open, sometimes its been a stealth attempt, with varying levels of success. But this was something completely out of the blue.

I was just minding my own business – which I know sounds like I’m telling a story sarcastically but I promise I’m not – and topping up the tank in my car. I was taking advantage before the prices spiked before the long weekend. While I was there I wanted to squeegee the windscreens; with all the driving I do, dust and gunk build up a lot more on the car than they did before I Uber-ed, and getting the car washed (or doing it myself) every time it gets to be too much would be a little too expensive for my tastes.

It was time for me to take a break, so I was listening to a podcast while filling the tank. Between the headphones and the mundanity of what I was doing, I wasn’t very aware of what was happening around me. As I finished with the petrol bowser, I was half-aware that a van had pulled up behind my car. Not really paying attention to it, I went to the squeegee. Partway through doing the rear windscreen, I realised that there was some kind of alarm coming from the van. The driver was in the front seat with the door open. I figured it was a “hey your door’s open and the key’s in” kind of alarm, and just ignored it.

I finished up with the rear windscreen, re-dipped the squeegee and moved round to the front of the car. It was at this point that things got really weird for me, because as I was just starting to move the sponge part across the windscreen, I heard from the guy in the van, now leaning out the window and shouting at me, muffled by the headphones “*mumble mumble* c**t, aren’t you?”

I assumed I’d misheard him. I’d not heard the first part of what he said clearly, and the first word I thought I’d recognised was the one that caught me well and truly by surprise. When I looked up he seemed to be looking at me as he was getting out of his van, but maybe he hadn’t been talking to me. Maybe it was anger at the van itself, having some issue with it, perhaps even related to the alarm that had been going off just a few moments before. It would be made clear where he had directed the comment and the nature there of very quickly, by the next things out of his mouth.

“You inconsiderate little c**t, just take your f**king time cleaning your windshield.” I might’ve been wrong, but I was fairly confident that he was talking to me.

As far as I know I was doing something fairly normal. Not everyone cleans their windshields every time they fill up with petrol, but this certainly wasn’t the first time I’d seen someone do it. And in looking around to see if I was alone in my surprise at the sudden escalation of things, I realised that there were actually a pair of bowsers completely free and available. Even if I’d set out to delay this guy for some reason – which wasn’t the case but was becoming a more tempting option by the moment – the most I could expect would be to force him to back up and change direction to go to another bowser. Hardly the cunning and devious plan of a master villain.

Now the course of action I took at this point probably isn’t recommended by too many sane and sober experts in conflict resolution, but it did take me back to my days as parking ranger, having to deal with angry people and having to essentially stand there and cop it or risk punishment from the bosses if a complaint was made about my behaviour, however justified and non-physical/non-expletive-laden it might have been. It also took me back to being bullied in school and the combination of fear and “don’t respond” advice that got me standing like a statue when it happened in the past. So don’t take this as a recommendation to follow my lead if you get in a similar situation. With a lot of experience with these types of situations I made a read of the guy and assessed I would be ok to do what I did. But if I’d gotten it wrong the consequences could have been severe. You’ve been warned.

Now with all of that it might seem like I decided to emulate the greats of the WWE, maybe a Stone Cold Stunner or a Rock Bottom sandwiched between some trash talk. Well there wasn’t any violence. I did however, stop and walk over to him and ask what his problem was. Without wanting to repeat everything (mostly because I don’t want to wear out the <shift> and <8> keys on my keyboard from censoring out his swearing) it seemed I was supposed to intuit that he was in a hurry and move out of his way at the first opportunity, rather than do what I needed to do in a way that was convenient and expedient for me. Again I’ll point out that there was at least one bowser completely empty – no one using either side of it – available at the time.

Despite the seemingly doubly appropriate nature of applying an Attitude Adjustment, I continued to not use physicality. (It should be pointed out that I have minimal physical co-ordination, and zero experience in actual fights, so the WWE comments here are more boasting now than actual options I considered at the time.) I did decide that I was going to be as unhelpful as possible. So I slowly walked back to the front of my car, turning my back on him. I hadn’t taken the headphones off but I had paused the podcast so I could hear what he was saying, and if he tried to come up behind me. I went back to cleaning my windshield, and suggested to him that “Calling me names and using foul language straight off the bat probably isn’t a great way to convince me to help you out, is it.”

He went back to mostly incomprehensible gibberish peppered with expletives, and I went back to my now-much-more-thorough cleaning of my windshield. Somewhere between that point and me going inside to pay for the petrol, the antagonist of the story (hopefully you are all agreeing with me that that refers to the the sweary old guy rather than me) made a few more presumably rude and unnecessary but ultimately useless and not-clearly-heard comments, and actually moved to one of the other bowsers, one closer to the store.

Now we get to the point where my warning up above really applies. As I came out of the store, I spotted the old guy filling up his van, facing away from me, and saw I had an opportunity. I walked up behind him, but in no way trying to sneak up on him. He spotted me and turned around just as I got to about a metre away from him, or the normal distance between two people who aren’t familiar with each other.

But that wasn’t where I stopped; I got as close to him as I could while definitely not touching him. It pleased me immensely when he leaned back away from me. I essentially dared him: “Say something else to me. Say one more word to me.” I didn’t shout, I didn’t even raise my voice. I lowered my voice both in tone and volume. After saying that I had a pause and broke eye contact to look over his face, then came back to look him dead in the eyes again, waited a beat, and leaned in a little bit more and said even quieter “I didn’t think so.” Another beat, and then I turned around and slowly walked away.

I’d love to be able to say I had a plan for all of that. In reality, I got lucky to have managed something as cohesive as I did. Normally, without having a chance to rehearse what I’d say beforehand I’d be stumbling all over my words, and that’s definitely not the effect I was after. I got to my car and drove away, but had a thought as I was waiting for the traffic to clear leaving the petrol station. So I pulled out, drove around the block, and managed to snap this photo:

Be careful when you next fill up: doing every day normal things in the usual way could trigger a massive overreaction from the guy behind you. Be prepared for crazy!

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.

Bad Luck With Car Troubles II: Wrath of Knock

Previously on Uber-Man: The Driver

Who knows, maybe I’ll get some material out of it…

For some reason, I can’t help but think of the advice ‘careful what you wish for’.

As I talked about last week I rented a car while my usual ride was off the road. That side of things has been fairly reasonable. The biggest issues I’ve had with it have been about differences between the two cars that you don’t think about until you experience it. Little things like having a handbrake instead of a footbrake, a mechanical gear stick that’s got some resistance to it instead of an electronic one that can change settings by tapping it.

 

Thankfully that was all the issues I had with it. Given the running around – or to put it more correctly, Uber-ing around as a passenger instead of a driver as usual – to get the rental, getting my car to and from mechanics, I’m not sure I could’ve maintained my tenuous hold on sanity otherwise.

Anyway, I was able to get around the city, make money with rides and get on with personal errands. Given the alternative I was originally facing of just not having a car at all, it was reasonably good all things considered. It was tricky on Friday getting my car to Toyota, but only the normal tricky of driving somewhere and not being able to drive back. Sure enough, a few hours after getting back home I got a message from Toyota saying my car was ready to go. After getting back I got my next disappointment, though on the scale of one to the cancellation of Firefly, it was a three.

All the recall issues were dealt with, and being recalls were sorted out for free. And they were able to identify what was causing the knock sound. Apparently it would cost about $500 to fix, replacing the steering column. Initially I agreed to go ahead with the repairs which would take another week or so to get the parts and get them installed, as it was necessary to get my car up to snuff to be registered.

Except it wasn’t! It was just a bit of gunk that had built up and was causing a sound that might be annoying. Absolutely no safety issue at all, in no way impeding the process of passing the rego safety check. Of course, when I got there it was just when the mechanics who could do the safety check had gone to lunch. Given I’d be back in the neighbourhood to drop off the rental car on Monday, I organised to do the safety check then. Also, I cancelled the order for the steering column fix.

After that it all worked out reasonably well. I returned the rental car on Monday morning, after dropping off my car for the safety check. There was a little bit of a hold up as apparently they’d not processed too many Uber rentals and there was some special process or option or thingy-ma-jig that took a little extra time to sort out. Nothing too horrendous, the staff were nice about it and I wasn’t in a rush. (Tip to people when in the role of ‘customer’: generally speaking shouting and screaming at staff to hurry up or to do their jobs properly or other similar orders don’t actually help speed the process up.)

I got back to Toyota, where my car was almost ready to pick up. While I was waiting, I checked to see if they’d uploaded the details to the RMS. They had, so while I waited for my car I paid my rego, which was almost the trigger for my car to be announced as ready. Even though I’d driven the car to its appointments over the last couple of weeks, it felt like it was the first time I’d had it since taking it to the smash repairers. I finally had my car back, and was ready to go.

Star Trek Adventures logoAs a bonus, when I got back home my copy of the core rulebook for the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game! If this is the first post you’ve read on this site, fair enough, but otherwise you’ve got no excuse for not realising ahead of time that I’m a nerd. If you too are a nerd, like RPGs, Star Trek, both, or are curious about any of the above, Modiphius have published this new game. You can buy your own copy of the book or any of the other paraphernalia for the game from their site here.

Also this post’s title probably makes a bit more sense now.

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.

Is an Uber ride without the app still an Uber ride?

Getting an Uber is easy. So easy that its not really possible to make it easier. So why skip the part that keeps the whole thing going?

When you look at it from a distance, Uber is a simple system. As a driver, when you’re ready to start taking rides you open the app, switch it on and wait for the requests to come. As a passenger, when you’re ready to take a ride you open the app, set a destination and wait for the car to arrive. The reality is a lot more complicated than that, but the system helps to obfuscate the details and keep things simple.

Passengers will have a chat with me sometimes about their experience with Uber, often as it compares to taxis, and a common thread that comes up is the sense of safety they have when using Uber. The ability to track the car on its way to the pickup location, and to share your location and ETA with others once you’re on your way. If something does happen on the ride, or if the passenger leaves something behind, the driver and car can be matched with the ride.

That safety goes both ways. Just as passengers enjoy protections by using the Uber platform, drivers also have security. We don’t have to worry about carrying money from fares or for change. If we get into some kind of trouble we’re tracked via GPS, and just like passengers with us, if we have a problem with a passenger they can be tracked down to sort the issue out.

All of this is just one of the reasons why I was surprised when this happened the other day:

After a great chat with a passenger, we’d arrived at the Tempe Ikea to drop them off. I pulled up outside the store’s entrance, we said our farewells, and that seemed to be it. As my passenger was getting out, I happened to see someone standing outside that had “The Look”. I’ve talked about The Look before. For a moment I thought it was my next passenger, but I realised I hadn’t accepted, let alone been offered another ride at that stage. I figured they must be waiting for someone else.

Woman signalling car
If in doubt, this is a valid method of getting a taxi. It is not however a valid way for hiring an Uber.

It was a little surprising when my passenger had gotten out of the car but hadn’t closed the door. From what I could tell they seemed to be having a conversation with the woman with The Look. It turned out the woman wanted to know if I was an Uber driver, and wanted a ride. I told my actual passenger they could go if they wanted, and let my prospective passenger know that if they wanted a ride they’d need to request it through the app.

She implied that she’d tried to book through the app, but that it wasn’t working for her. Before I had a chance to do anything, she offered to pay cash for the ride. That set off my spidey-senses. As much as its true, I used the excuse that we Uber drivers aren’t allowed to pick up passengers unless its for a pre-booked ride. I told her that if she requested a ride and it came to me that would be fine, otherwise she’d need to make alternative arrangements. I continued on my way, and got a request soon after

I suspect that if you’re an Uber driver, you understand very well why I didn’t let her get in my car, but that if you’re not you may think I was being silly, unkind, maybe even rude. For one, I checked the passenger app after I got a little distance: it was working fine, even showed my car in the right location as being available. If she was having issues – and actually had an account with Uber – then they were on her end, not with the system itself.

Now I’ve never knowingly been bitten by a radioactive spider, so my spidey-senses are not on the same level as Peter Parker’s. Its entirely possible that my instincts about this woman were way off, that she was legitimately trying to get home (or wherever she was headed) and was having some problems, but something felt off. I get enough weird encounters as it is, without needing to throw in the lack of a safety net to make things any more interesting than they already are. And that’s before I get to the legal issues if it was found out. (Note to self: don’t write about illegal activity online, even on a blog with as limited readership as this one.) Essentially, even without any intentional shenanigans from the would-be passenger, it would definitely not be worth the trouble.

Passengers: don’t ask for a non-booked ride from an Uber driver. If they accept then they’re probably not the sort of driver you want to have taking you where you want to go. Drivers: don’t accept a non-booked ride from a person on the street. Its illegal, potentially dangerous, and not worth the risk.

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:

003329-crowded-bus-stop[1]
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!