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Insider Series: What Uber Drivers Know About Passengers

Dec. 22, 2014
7 min read
Insider Series: What Uber Drivers Know About Passengers
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Uber is one of my all-time favorite travel apps because it allows you to hail private cars and taxis directly from your smartphone. Ever wonder what it's like to be an Uber driver? Here's a behind the scenes, anonymous report from a New York City Uber driver as part of our new Insider Series. Here's what they have to say about driving for Uber. See their other report on What It's Really Like To Be a NYC Uber Driver.

If you haven't joined Uber yet, you can sign up here to get your first ride up to $20 free.

Every Uber driver knows the same information about each of their clients: their name, location, preferred car type(s), phone number(s) and interactive ratings—that is, how they've rated their past drivers, and how those drivers have rated them. All these details form flashes of powerful data in drivers' minds, as well as on their Uber apps.

Uber drivers know more about you than you might think.

Just like a good marriage, both an Uber driver and a client have access to their own halves of the Uber app. When a client clicks the app to request a ride, a driver receives a signal with the icon of a ride-flagging human being; if the driver accepts the ride request, both parties see a screen that features the other's name and rating. Meanwhile, the driver sees the client's location while the client sees a photo of the model/type of the driver's car as well as the moving icon of a car on a map that represents their approaching ride.

With one click, the Uber system employs an internal GPS to show the driver the fastest route to their client by displaying a bold line between the icons of the flagging human being and the car. During rush hour, visits from President Obama, or in the event of newly-closed streets or construction detours, drivers don’t even look at a client's location, they just hit the “navigate” button to (hopefully) get to their destination in record time. Maybe it's the GPS' functionality that should be rated, rather than just a driver's performance!

In Manhattan, cross-town locations are mind-boggling riddles for Uber drivers.

In Manhattan, cross-town locations are mind-boggling riddles for Uber drivers, and they can rarely get to their clients fast enough to please them. For instance, if a driver is headed downtown and their call is uptown, by the time they've turned the car around in order to battle the gridlock between them and their customer, the requested ride has been cancelled. Drivers struggle to successfully make pick-ups within three minutes, but in the event of heavy traffic, 10-minute cross-town pick-ups are rarely possible. Drivers have learned to pick their battles, wisely choosing to live and make money on the next fare rather than die in a car accident.

Uber drivers are rated based on their performance.

A rating of five stars is the benchmark for both Uber's clients and drivers, ideally allowing both to weed out bad apples. Drivers rarely give out 5-star ratings unless the customer is new or a long-time favorite, while ratings of less than five stars for riders can be an indication of jaded, long-time or even disorderly users. Rather than descending automatically into low numbers, Uber now uses decimal ratings such as 4.9, 4.8, 4.7, etc.

These decimal ratings given to clients have the following meanings:

4.9 - may have a minor disagreement with a driver, but overall is pretty quiet and pleasant
4.8 - the client isn't a bad apple, but is considered odd or quirky
4.7 - rider may have attitude or mood problem
4.6 - rider misbehaves or doesn’t communicate well
4.5 - is an argumentative or back-seat rider, or simply exhibits unpredictable behavior
4.4 to 4.1 - riders may get into arguments with drivers over everything (or even nothing)

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A rider rated 4 stars or below is considered a fighter, someone the network should weed out of our system. Drivers who see these ratings may fear for their safety when answering the potential client's call. Drivers will pick up people with lower ratings during the day, but at night those clients will have to find a yellow cab or a subway. Bottom line, no driver wants to have contact with someone who berates, criticizes, or is drunk, aggressive or yelling in their car.

Safety is the apparent logic of the ratings, but read between the lines; when it comes to ratings, perceptions about attitude are the dependable common denominator between Uber clientele and drivers. Both drivers and clients dole out ratings of three stars or below in order to be vindicated when they feel they've been given a hard time.

Additionally, ratings often correspond to personality. For example, if a driver dislikes flashy, noisy people, then he/she will likely rate a hyperactive, loud rider below five stars. Conversely, clients who prefer seasoned drivers would probably give them high ratings for their efficient performance and/or well-groomed appearance. Clients who like to create a party atmosphere with their drivers would give a spirited driver five stars if during the ride their iPod is blasting and they permit more riders in the car than are officially allowed.

Uber provides drivers a weekly summary of feedback from the passengers.
Uber provides drivers a weekly summary of feedback from the passengers.

Uber provides drivers a weekly summary report of their clients' ratings so that they can quickly note and reverse the aberrance of a bad score or two, but repeated bad summary reports will eventually result in a driver's loss of either certain accounts or their overall employment with Uber.

Uber isn't concerned with lowering their prices, because many drivers manage to show up at clients' pick-up locations with their own SUVs, Cadillacs or Mercedes sedans. Only drivers who can't afford these sorts of high-end vehicles suffer a loss in business. When sending their nannies home at night, very rich people used to order a Black Town car, but now they use Uberx service.

You can fake just about anything on your rider profile, which makes every pick-up a gamble. A client's name on their account could be a celebrity pseudonym, so a rider's in your car by the time you realize you're driving Richard Branson, Tyra Banks or the next Adam Levine. Or, you won't immediately recognize a former client with a bad attitude. Sometimes you meet someone who's really nice, and they make your day. When you're a driver in New York, the city soon becomes a place of amazing diversity where everyone reigns in their own world, traveling in and out of town all the time and building a life.

When Uber was first introduced, drivers had a direct phone line to the riders, and drivers paid out of pocket for their call their clients. However, Uber quickly caught onto the fact that drivers could develop their own clientele if they had their clients' phone numbers, and drivers caught stealing Uber customers were fired. Nowadays, we have a network phone number that filters clients and protects our privacy.

My work involves dealing with people I don’t like but that I feel I should, and people that I like but most likely won't be friends with. Once a client is on board, my main focus is on performing well and communicating smoothly with the client in order to have a great ride whenever possible. If the ride is lousy, it's not the end of the world; I can always take a deep breath, pick up another client and have a better experience. I've come to see being an Uber driver as a metaphor for living a happy life.
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