For Uber Passengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What do you think about all this?