My First Two Fares With Uber
By: Tommy Andrews
I am a pretty laid back guy. A few decades ago I completed the toastmasters regime of 10 speeches. I have spoken in front of 500 people before and held countless meeting where I had to present facts and figures on powerpoint slides to a critical corporate audience.
I don’t know what it is but despite all my experience, imagining that everyone is in their underwear, I, Mr. laid back easy going guy was actually nervous about my potential first fare. There is a saying that FEAR is really False Evidence Appearing Real. I knew this but despite this knowledge, my fear and apprehension to even turn on the app and go online just amazed me.
Since my personal car at the time was a 1999 Toyota Camry, which of course did not qualify as an Uber vehicle, I swapped cars with my wife as she was driving a 2009 4 door Honda Civic. Even if Uber would have allowed me to drive my old gelope Camry, it just did not get the kind of gas mileage that the Civic did.
Weeks earlier I applied through the Uber website to become a driver. This meant that after entering in my info, Uber ran a criminal background and driver record check which took about 3 days. While waiting for the results I was allowed to upload phone photos of my registration, license, insurance and inspection report. Uber really makes the sign-up process very easy and streamlined. They try to keep you informed of where you are in the process with each step.
I did not get a free inspection from one of the many Uber inspection stations in the San Francico Bay Area because their nearest inspection station was about 45 min away. So since I know I would need new tires on the Civic anyway I found some tires on sale at Wheel Works and while there I asked them to also complete an Uber car inspection. I was hoping they would absorb the cost of the inspection but despite this the $20 I was charged for the inspection was well worth not having to drive so far for an inspection. There are many Uber mechanic shop partners some of which advertise that if you buy over $X’s of their product they would waive the inspection fee. So I recommend you do a little research about Uber inspection partners on Ubers web site at Uber Vehicle Inspections.
So it was mid August and we were having a typical hot day in Northern California. It was Friday and while working my full time job in an office, I was thinking that I was ready that day to take my first fare after work. After my day job ended at 5pm that Friday I decided I should gas up before I go online just to make sure I could handle whatever distance came at me with my first fare. An airport run is what I had in mind which was basically a 1 hour trip. So I headed over to Costco to fill up. Once I finished filling the tank I drove over into a parking spot so that I can turn the app online for my first fare. I remember that I did feel a bit nervous and I was about to tap the “online” button with a bit of apprehension. Well it did not go without a couple of hiccups because when you go online for the first time the app requests that you take a picture of yourself first. Even with the dome light of the car turned on I could not really get a good headshot of myself but I accepted the best selfie I could make under the circumstances. Okay, now I was ready to move on and tap on the “online” button. Well, here is where a bit of frustration set in. I taped on “online” and got an error message, something to the effect of “cannot go online at this time, please try again later”. I tried several times and was getting really frustrated. I messing with it for about 10 minutes I gave up thinking that maybe there was an issue with the way I registered my Honda Civic with Uber. I decided to drive home and email Uber support from home and hope that I get some instantaneous support. The fact that the only way to communicate with Uber is through email is a pain especially when you need a timely answer.
As soon as I got home I sent Uber support and email about what happened and the fact that the app will not allow me to go online. Since I wasn’t able to drive at this point I decided that I would have some dinner at home, just in case the folks at Uber decide to address the problem right away, but I was not counting on that to happen that Friday evening.
After dinner I was still in the house when I decided to turn on the Uber app and try to go online just to see what would happen. Amazingly the app went online and I was ready to take on fares. I quickly took the app back offline so as not to get a fare while I was not really ready just yet. So either the issue I was having cleared itself up or someone in the support department at Uber read my email and did something about the situation.
I soon got in the car again but by now it was already 9:00 PM and I was not sure what kind of fares I would get given that it was starting to get late. I drove about 5 miles to a shopping plaza that was kind of in the center of a very affluent neighborhood near our home. I drove here because I saw that the red surge background color on the map was indicating surge pricing in the area and I thought I could take advantage of this right away on my very first fare. As I waited in the parking lot of a shopping plaza that was in the center of this very affluent neighborhood, I got restless after waiting 15 minutes with the app online but with no fare so far.
So I headed for the small downtown area of our town. I drive in the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay Area. Although San Francisco is the heart and most densely populated city in this area, the entire Bay Area is a continuous string of smaller cities and towns that circles the San Francisco Bay such that it is really just one massive urban spread with a population of about 7 million people. In case you did not know, Uber’s and Lyft’s headquarters are in San Francisco, although Uber recently announced that it will be moving it’s HQ to downtown Oakland, across the bay. What is deemed The Bay Area still remains to this day the heart of technological innovation for the entire world.
As I was approaching the downtown core of this 40K+ community I got my very first ping to take a fare. What happens is that the pickup location map is displayed in a circle nearly the diameter of your display and a blue outer ring around the map starts to get shorter indicating the countdown timer. There is also an audible “bing” sound given off every second. If you do not tap on the center of the map before the timer reaches the end of it’s countdown then you have not accepted the fare and Uber will ping the next closest driver. On the other hand if you tape the circle then the next thing that happens is that either Google Maps or Waze Maps, depending on which one you configured in the app to be default, will initialize and direct you to the pickup location.
It wasn’t like the phone was in my lap, rather I had purchased an excellent phone holder that I attached to the left hand side of the windshield in a way that it minimally blocked my view. So off I was to pick up my first fare which, according to Google Maps, was 5 minutes from my current location. Fortunately I was already heading in the direction of the fare and thus did not have to turn around.
I noticed something buggy about Google Maps in that although it knew my location, it did not know what direction I was going in as it initialized to direct me to my first fare. I was at a red light when Google Maps fired up, so the “my position” arrow was in effect pointing the wrong way. Once I started moving however, it figured out what direction I was moving in and adjusted the map arrow accordingly. I point this out because this means you have to have some semblance of the major streets around you for reference when the map first fires up so that you can determine whether to turn right, left or turn completely around for your next fare. The blue direction lines will display right away but the driver arrow may actually be pointing in completely the opposite direction than what your car is pointing in. So if you were to tap the “Re-Center” button on Google Maps it would be pointing in the direction of the back of your car and you may think you have to turn around 180 degrees, when this is not the case at all. If you are aware of this then you are better able to deal with it and that is why I bring this up.
Once I got within a few houses of the pick up location the map switched to a topographical view and I noticed there was a floating double arrow black icon on the left hand side of the display which when I tapped it took me back to the uber app from Google Maps. The Uber app displayed a message “waiting for passenger” and the name of the passenger that requested the rides as also displayed.. So the way the app works is when you are very close to your fare (withing about 150 feet) or close to what is referred to as the PIN (the green bubble which indicates the pick up location), then the app automatically sends a text message to the passenger that you are waiting for them. But the more interesting thing is that a communication channel is opened up between you and the passenger which is virtual, thus the passenger will never see your real phone number and visa versa when sending text messages and making actual phone calls using the Uber app. This is a great way for Uber to protect both the passengers and drivers privacy while still providing a means of communication between the two.
The pickup location address is displayed at the top of the Uber app. It was dark and I could not see the house number but I could however see on the map that I was in front of the house where the green pin was located. I pulled into the driveway and waited, and waited and waited. As a matter of fact it was already past the 5 minute mark for waiting and instead of being nervous about the first ride I started getting a little angry at the passengers I have not even seen yet. Why do some people have such disregard of a driver’s time? I decided that since this was my very first fare I would just wait until the passengers came out of the house, which they did about 10 minutes after I arrived. As a new driver please be aware that you can cancel the fare after 5 minutes and be paid a portion of the current minimum fare for your troubles which the passenger will be charged for. In most cases however you might want to wait just a few minutes longer as there may be legitimate reasons a passenger could not come out right away.
This young couple come out of the house waving good bye to their hosts and finally get in my Honda Civic. I notice that the guy had a large shopping bag and I offered to open the trunk for him to store it there for the ride but he said he wanted to have it with them in the back seat. They both sat in the back and I turned on the dome light to provide them extra light so that they could easily buckle up their seat belts.
So I was ready to go except for one thing. I needed to let the app know that I had just picked up the passengers and I was now on my way. The problem was that despite tapping on the button that said “Pick Up Passenger”, the app just did not recognize that I was tapping the button. I tried at least 10 times in quick succession but nothing. I was now getting very nervous since I could not start the clock for the fare but at the same time I did not want to hold up the passengers while I figured out how to deal with this. So I asked the customer where they were going and they gave me the name of a city about 20 miles to the north of where we were. With that information I knew that I needed to get on the freeway northbound and I knew the area enough to be able to to find my way to the freeway without any navigation system. So I backed out of the driveway and headed for the freeway.
While driving I was still working on figuring out how to start the fare on the app. I had probably driven about a ¼ of a mile down the road when purely by accident I finally started the fare. It was only because I was on a bumpy road that my finger swiped the green “Pick Up Passenger” button from left to right instead of tapping it. I considered myself very lucky and my sweating bullets period had stopped.
As I was driving my first passengers I realized that they had much to talk to each other about including what they thought of dinner at their friend’s house that evening. I thought it was best under the circumstances not to interrupt their conversation with anything I wanted to say with small talk.
Within 2 miles of the final destination the guy asked me to take a slightly different course from what Google Maps was showing me. I did not know it at the time but there are situations in which Google Maps does not show you the optimal route rather it shows you the shortest route. So as a new driver you may actually ask your passengers if the route the map is directing you to take is the route they want to take. This is something many passengers really appreciate because it gives them some additional level of control over the ride.
I turned down the street the couple lived on and half way down they guy said that I could drop them off right where we were. Given that the street was full of parallel parked cars and not a single gap was visible anywhere, I pulled as far to the right hand side of the road and put my emergency blinkers on to drop my passengers off. I asked that both of them exit the car on the passenger’s side (sidewalk side). This is very important because you do not want passengers getting out of the dirvers side of the car given that there may be traffic on the street. Always consider the safety of your passengers first.
No sooner did I drop my passengers off then I got another fare binging on my phone. Interestingly the fare was literally just 100 ft from where I just dropped off my last passengers. I turned the car around and only had to wait about 1 minute before the back doors opened and a couple of young guys got in the car. This time I know that I had to swipe the green button to the right in order to get the meter going. The two guys were just going to a downtown bar in the same city I just dropped the previous passengers off at. This meant a 3 mile ride. As I started driving one of the guys asked me how long I had been driving for Uber. I was not going to let them know that they were my 2nd fare, so I said I had been doing this for a couple of weeks. Clearly the guys had been drinking already at home given the use of profanity was extensive during the ride. These guys were talking about women in a very derogatory way. In a way actually that I would not accept, however I was not going to intervene as these are passengers and I felt I would have to let a lot of stuff like this go. How they talked about women was none of my business. All I cared about was to make sure these two guys got to their destination safe and sound.
After my first two rides, my life as a rideshare driver has become a blur. Over the past year I have given thousands of rides. I have met all kinds of passengers, many of whom I have met over and over again to the degree that they have become regulars. I regularly take Uber employees that work in San Francisco home as many of them live in the same area I live in and in the city the rapid transit train station is stops in. I have picked up famous people and not even known it. I have prevented dozens of fatal accidents by people too intoxicated to talk let alone driver. I feel good about the service I provide. It helps people in many ways. And their secrets are always safe with me :-).
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