Drive Through: Rideshare Stories
Written by Myron J. Clifton
A couple of years ago, at the urging of a few friends and relatives, I decided to try driving for a couple of rideshare companies.
I was hesitant at first and had many questions. I mean, who wants a stranger in their car? How would the ratings work? What about accidents? How drunk and rowdy would people be? Was there a chance of danger?
Everyone assured me that the system worked and that I should give it go. After being laid off and while I was looking for work, I decided to give it a go.
I already had the perfect car – a Prius, the rideshare car of choice due to its fifty-plus mpg and ability to hold four passengers. So, I downloaded the app and got myself set up.
I was surprised at how easy it was to get going and to be ready to pick up passengers. The lack of background check or even a thorough car inspection was surprising in how much it was lacking.
After downloading the app, I had to fill out a brief questionnaire and then I was required to go to a location for a car inspection.
After waiting for about an hour with twenty other drivers of all races, genders, and class, an inspector looked over my Prius. He checked my tires, my blinkers, and asked me to press my breaks. Then he was done. The inspection was barely five minutes.
I got my stickers for the windows, got my car washed and vacuumed, stored some waters and snacks – for myself – and I was ready to drive.
I decided to drive in the early evening first, preferring a little daylight just in case some of the rumors I heard about nighttime driving were true.
I launched my app and changed the setting to “DRIVE.”
Within a minute I got my first rider, with the app ringing and the screen showing the rider’s name and rating. The app gives drivers 10 seconds to decide to accept or not accept the ride. And drivers must accept 90% of the rides offered or else risk being kicked off the platform.
This method has caused a lot of problems that are typical for America. Studies have shown that names that are traditionally “Black sounding” are not accepted at the same rate as non-Black names.
The rideshare companies worked to improve services after being called out for doing what taxis have done (still do) for ages: not picking up Black riders or going into Black neighborhoods. Ironically, I eventually found great success in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods due to the lack of drivers who routinely drive in those areas.
They also implemented notice that tells how far away in miles and minutes a rider is and how much expect earnings the driver will earn for a ride.
But a driver still only has 10 seconds to sort through the data an decide to accept/not accept a ride.
After accepting the ride the rideshare GPS kicked in and directed me to the rider, who was just a few miles away. The default GPS was Google Maps and in Sacramento where I drove, the mapping service was really bad, frequently directing me to alleyways behind apartments, or to the trucking delivery ramps behind the big box stores. After a few weeks of driving one learns to navigate the errors of the mapping system and get to the rider in the most efficient way possible. I eventually switched to WAZE as I found it best for navigation though honestly, none are excellent in the Sacramento area.
Once the rider gets in the car the driver then starts the ride and that is when billing starts. It is also only after the rider enters the car that the driver knows the address/destination of the rider.
Riders think (or used to when I was driving, but maybe it has changed) drivers know where they are going once they request a ride because the rider is generally required to put in a destination when requesting a ride. But in fact the driver does not know until the rider gets in the car. The rideshare companies do this so that drivers will not cherry-pick “good” rides, i.e. worth more, vs. “bad” rides, i.e. too short and or to a “bad” area.
Never fear, drivers still cherry pick as it is the drivers car and we are contractors and not employees so if a ride pops in and is too far away – and generally too far can be 7 to fifteen minutes, drivers will simply allow the ride request to time-out. Once that happens, the algorhythem finds the next closest driver and sends the ride to that person.
The reason why drivers don’t want to drive too far away for a pick-up is that drivers are not paid when driving to pick up. Drivers are only paid once a rider gets in the car so every drive to pick someone up is unpaid time, so drivers want rides that are close by.
My rider was pleasant, engaged in conversation, and I took her to her dinner date.
The ride was over in just about eight minutes and once she got out, I ended the ride, and the app showed me exactly how much money I made on that ride. Later, I was able to check to see if the rider tipped and what rating they gave me – she tipped two-dollars and rated me a five, the highest rating.
I will share more about the system and issues in a future post. Here is a ride that stood out in my first few months.
THE WORST TIP EVER
The couple had clearly been arguing and so the guy, an older sixty-ish man sat in front, and his partner, a thirty-ish woman dressed in formal dress with big clunky high-heels, sat in back. Once I started driving she promptly put her big clunky high-heels on my center armrest. So her foot/shoe was sticking out and resting right next to me.
Oh boy, I thought.
He told me the directions to drive – this is common and unneeded as the app will tell us and GPS will tell us, but people do it anyway. I eventually learned to gently inform riders that I knew the directions. But on this ride I already knew there was a roadblock the way the gentlemen told me to go and so I kindly let him know. But he insisted I follow his directions, and his partner agreed with him by yelling at me to let me know that I was, in fact, “retarded” for not knowing the way.
She continued yelling insults as we reached the roadblocks I had warned them about, and instead of acknowledging we’d made a mistake or just sitting quiet for making a stink, she became more angry because now we were in late night traffic due to, yep, the roadblock.
By now she had moved on to calling both her partner and I “fucking retards.”
After one particularly loud outburst her partner turned to her and shushed her.
One can imagine how a grown woman enjoys being shushed in public or ever.
Her reaction was to go thunderously nuclear and she cursed at both of us for the next fifteen minutes and called us all kinds of profane names, before we finally arrived at their home.
What should have been a ten minute drive ended up taking forty-five minutes because Mr. Man and Ms. Clunky shoe-on-armrest insisted on taking a bad route.
As the older gentleman exited the car, he went to open her door. I was relieved they were both leaving and wasn’t worried about a tip or anything. I just wanted them gone.
Her door opened and she started to scoot out but suddenly she stopped and said, “Here’s your fucking tip.” I turned to look, foolishly thinking she was about to hand me a dollar or something small as a way of adding one more insult to an insult-ridden drive.
As I looked, she lifted her right hand to her right eye and slowly peeled off her false eyelash. As she pulled I saw her eyelid slowly lift as the lash was pulled off.
My eyeballs were big as I stared thinking: I’ve never see a false eyelash being pulled off except for that one episode of The Flintstone’s when Dino was in love with Sassy – a Lassie knock-off – until he saw her in the dressing room after her TV show take off her false eyelashes.
Now I was like Dino with my mouth agape.
Ms. Eyelash-puller now had the full lash – or is that considered a half-lash? – and as our eyes met she said: “There’s your tip.”
She planted the false eyelash right on my arm rest where her clunky black shoe had rested just moments earlier.
She slammed the door and walked away.
I turned the app off, drove home, and went to sleep.
As I was drifting off to sleep it dawned on me: Her eyelash was still in my car on my armrest.
© 2019 by Myron J. Clifton. All Rights Reserved.