Perspectives from the Driver’s Seat of Uber (Part 2 of 3)
NOTE: If you are looking for an abridged version written by a professional, see Scott Kirsner’s story on boston.com. For the rest of you…
After a memorable and nerve-wracking first few moments fiddling with the standard issue Uber iPhone, captured in this amateur video by my 10-year old daughter, I accepted my first customer and headed her way.
Ava* was Uber Guest #1. Pick up was in Charlestown, MA. Ava was slightly uneasy that a “white guy in a Jeep”, as she later confessed, (with “BOLOCO” license plates, no less) was her Uber driver. I told her the quick version of the Shabih story and a little about Boloco, and it turned out her boyfriend was a fan. She said she’d send me his Boloco Card # and he’d get a freebie. She was psyched. I was psyched. She got 5 stars. And so did I!
I also realized I needed to have some Boloco Cards with freebies pre-loaded on them handy at all times… just in case.
I was in Dorchester at this point, and pointed home. The Uber alert activated again. This Uber rider was only a few blocks away, also in Dorchester. I accepted.
Uber Guest #2 was Brooklyn*. I followed my trusty Waze app (trust me, you need Waze) to the pick-up address on the Uber phone and waited for a few minutes. Finally, a young woman emerged from an entirely different house than shown on my screen. It occurred to me why Uber drivers so often have trouble finding their passengers when exact addresses aren’t entered.
“I’m so fu*king hungover,” she said after crawling into the back seat. “I’m dying. Do you know where Burger King is? Do you know where Southie is?” Brooklyn was hurting… badly.
I gave a supportive laugh and empathized and then asked her where she was really going… she said she was heading to work in the Seaport. I ended up convincing her that a breakfast burrito from Boloco would be superior to BK and she agreed. At a stoplight, I used the incredibly amazing Boloco App to order her a breakfast burrito, and a few minutes later we pulled over at the Atlantic Wharf Boloco a few blocks from her office. I was a little frustrated that the Atlantic Wharf team was out of eggs, which took five extra minutes to cook, but comforted by the fact that my former teammates threw in a cookie for Brooklyn to make up for the wait. Boloco always makes up for its mistakes!
Turns out, once Brooklyn really opened up to me, she wasn’t just hung over… she had done cocaine for her first time the night before… all night. I’ve never done cocaine. For some reason I always imagined I would be one of those idiots who dropped dead when I tried it. If nothing else, my second UberX fare confirmed that any sliver of a chance I’d ever try cocaine had disappeared forever. Pure pain and misery.
Beyond those initial two fares, I recognized quickly that I wouldn’t likely be taking time out of my day to go “Ubering.” In fact, I didn’t Uber again for another month. Ubering had to fit into something that I was already doing – it had to become part of my regular flow.
Boom. Taking my daughters to school! As it turns out, that was my window to Uber. And once I figured it out, I got c-o-m-m-i-t-t-e-d. I dropped the kids at school in Cambridge and Ubered my way back to our condo downtown, or as close to it as I could get. I got to hang with the girls going to school, which I love… and get paid to drive back home. My goal was $40-50 per day. 3-4 rides max. Brilliant…
THE ELUSIVE 5-STAR RATING
I had a perfect 5-star score for the first 10 fares or so. I didn’t get cocky. I even added “amenities” to what I experienced as an Uber rider myself. I began to text new passengers immediately and ask where I would be taking them so that I can be prepared – with the GPS as well as mentally – once they enter my vehicle. The shortcut on my iPhone is “UO” (Uber One) which turns into “Hi! About 5 minutes away. What street address will you be heading to? Thx! John”. About 80% of riders respond to this.
About one minute from the pick-up spot, I hit the “Arriving Now” button on the Uber Phone as required, but then send another text message reminding the passenger the kind of car I am driving and where exactly I am waiting. The shortcut for this one is “UT” (Uber 2) and reads “I’m here and ready when you are. Driving a…” filling the dots with the car I’m driving (I have 2).
Once the passenger enters the car, I always take a minute or two to read her mood, their personality, and speak accordingly. If she curses, I might curse. If she is silent, I might stay silent. If she asks questions, I answer, and perhaps ask questions back. When asked, I explain the “BOLOCO” license plate, which often leads to incredible feedback for Boloco as well as interesting new stories from the passengers. Boloco Cards with free burritos on them came in handy in these moments (yes, even the two BC students who I picked up from a Chipotle in Newton got freebies!) Most of the time, I connect very well with my riders. And honestly, I was learning a lot from so many different people doing so many different things.
Then one day, I got a 4. I know exactly who it was. I was devastated. She was heading to an interview and had plugged in the wrong address in Kendall Square for pick up. We found each other swiftly, but it was cold and windy and she was a little vexed. I tried to make up for it with some light chatter, but the mood temperature in the back of the car continued to drop… until I confirmed she was cold as ice. I took my position as a quiet cab driver. It was so painfully awkward. I wanted my car back. I didn’t want her money. I had done everything I knew to deliver a great experience, but it was all in vain. She did not like me, my Jeep, or her experience. In retrospect, maybe I should be thankful I got a 4 – until the actual score came in it felt like it could be a 1 or a 2. Knowing, however, that an average of 4 over time means you’d be Uber-terminated, I wasn’t happy at all.
It got better for a while, before it got worse. I was racking up the 5’s. Feeling pretty good and in a rhythm of sorts. My iPhone shortcuts became second nature, and I’d provide further information if stuck in traffic, etc. I was able to triangulate quickly between Waze, Google Maps and Apple Maps for the very best route given any weather, traffic circumstance, and generally felt that I was providing a solid service for my guests.
Until that one night…
(TO BE CONTINUED)