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31 May 2019

10 Things I've Learned From Being A Rideshare Driver Featured

A sunny day in July 2016 was the most meaningful time I’ve ever missed the bus in Toronto. Instead of waiting 40 minutes until the next one, I decided to order an Uber. A lovely middle-aged woman from Zimbabwe arrived within a few minutes. We had a long, in-depth conversation about rideshare driving, flexibility to choose her own hours and driving as a woman. I enjoy driving and was desperate to find a better replacement for my toxic job, working overnights at a restaurant. Our conversation convinced me to quit that job and one month later, I became an Uber driver. I also started driving for Lyft the day it launched in Toronto two years ago.

My experience as a top-rated Uber driver led me to become a top-rated Lyft driver also. In August 2018 out of over 25,000 drivers across Ontario, I became the first woman selected as “Lyft Driver of the Month” as well as being the youngest.

Over the past three years I’ve picked up and dropped off nearly 6,000 people. Here’s some of what I’ve learned: 

1. Women and femmes feel safer with a woman driver. 

Once a shift on average, a woman or non-binary femme enters my car and immediately exclaims “I’m so happy to see a woman driver!” Though this is sometimes said during the day, I hear it mostly at night – especially after club hours. What remains disheartening is that there’s always a story of assault, harassment or creepiness these customers have experienced from some of their male taxi and rideshare drivers. “Are you married?” “Are you single?” and “Do you live alone?” are the most common questions they’re asked, which also makes them the most uncomfortable.

2. Being a Black queer woman means I can provide a safer space 

As a result of being a Black queer woman, I have been able to provide a safer space not only for women but also for Black people, people of colour, queer people and especially folks who are intersected along these lines. Many of my Black customers segue into conversation because of the music I play – mostly Soca and Afrobeats and sometimes the conversation gets deep. They may share experiences of anti-Blackness at work, school, in the city, or wherever they have been and I am able to empathize with and affirm their experiences. There are also times customers have shared that some rideshare drivers have been anti-Black. For example, the driver cancels the ride when they see a Black person approaching their car.

With some Black queer folks, I have been able to recommend resources such as events and drop-in groups where they don’t have to choose between being the queer person in a Black space or being the Black person in a queer space.  

I especially love when queer customers read me as being queer and our conversation slowly evolves from cautious neutral language in order to not “out” ourselves immediately, to establishing that we’re both under the queer umbrella. Queer couples have felt free to be affectionate with their partner in my car, without fear or judgement, condemnation or attack. Our conversations have ranged from been as jovial as folks visiting Toronto for Pride or local queer folks discussing our favourite party spots, to as serious as recommending immigration lawyers for a couple seeking asylum in Canada after escaping homophobic violence from their country.

3. Customers who are drunk are mostly very fun!

I often have more spirited customers between night time and early morning. In my experience, people are generally happier during night time, whether they are intoxicated or otherwise. Most customers are heading to, or coming from clubs, bars, house parties and wedding receptions. During the day I have found people are often less talkative; stressed about work and school deadlines, traffic jams, TTC making them late and thus having to order a ride, or being hungover from the night before and wondering how they’ll get through the day. The customers I’ve driven who are drunk are often super happy, talkative, inquisitive and over-appreciative. Some just want me to blast the music so they can sing their hearts out. Some simply fall asleep and magically awaken once I pull up to their destination. But on the flip side, a minority of customers who are drunk have been inappropriate by asking me invasive questions or by touching my hair without permission, while a similar minority have battled bouts of nausea.

4. Mess happens.

You don’t know when a mess will happen or how bad it will be. But it WILL happen. Gloves, cloths and cleaning supplies are a must! I have experienced everything from water spills, to mud on the seats, to the nightmare every driver worries about while driving at night – vomit. Halloween 2016, I was driving a car full of polite yet very intoxicated young men from Brampton to Mississauga at night. While on the highway, one man rolled down his window and needless to say, from my side mirror it looked like fire crackers were flying out of the back window. Thankfully the majority of the mess was covering the outside of my car but since we were on the highway, a sprinkling of specks had flown back in and found comfort in spots around the back seats, windows and walls. His friends were shocked into awkward silence but everyone was very apologetic after the ride. Now whenever I know a customer is nauseous, I pull over so they can step outside the car, especially before getting on a highway.

5. Customers love extra perks.
Customers really appreciate extra perks and freebies to make their ride more special. Some drivers offer candy, gum, a phone charger, a WiFi hotspot or even an in-car karaoke machine with a microphone. I prefer to offer my customers a bottle of water, chargers, an aux cord, and on weekend overnights, sometimes Gatorade. Whether it’s a hot summer day or a cold winter night, people need water – which goes particularly faster during overnight trips, since customers have often finished dancing up a storm or are parched from alcohol and any number of recreational substances. Offering perks can often boost your rating with customers although the vast majority of ratings rely on providing overall great service and conversation.

6. Stopping during rush hour can be expensive
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Something I hope no rideshare driver ever has to experience is getting a parking ticket for picking up their customer. This can happen if their car was stopped during rush hour to pick up or drop off their customer on a main road, even if there is no bicycle lane. If the driver is pulled over to let a customer enter or exit the vehicle at their destination, or are in the car waiting for their customer, once a parking attendant catches a stopped car, the ticket can be upwards of $150.00. This can be personally delivered to the driver’s window or mailed to their home if they drive away. So drivers, please be extra mindful of your surroundings when stopped for customers on main roads during rush hour, in addition to all roads for cyclist and pedestrian safety.

7. Top Drivers can receive mini promotions
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When you are in the Top Driver category for either Uber or Lyft, you remain eligible for mini promotions, bonuses and a higher level of trust. A few months after being a “Top Driver” for Uber, I became eligible as an UberAssist driver. These are a group of specialized drivers trained to assist customers who have specific access needs, who also pay a lower commission per UberAssist ride. UberAssist drivers greet the customer at the door instead of at the curb and ask “How may I assist you today?” so the customer can tell us exactly what they need. On the Lyft platform, Top Drivers are awarded with daily or weekly cash bonuses, gift cards, car washes, dinners, outings and more. They can be selected as “Driver of the Month” get profiled within the Lyft driver community, and may be eligible for the annual prize of “Driver of the Year.” It feels great to know your customers appreciate you because you’ve given them a great service and it feels just as good knowing the company recognizes you as being one of the best on their platform.

8. You never know who you will meet
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Many rideshare drivers hold multiple jobs and sometimes drivers can turn a customer conversation into a networking opportunity. Every day we meet people from all walks of life who have various interests, values and resources. A common question I get asked is “Do you have other jobs besides driving for Uber or Lyft?” To which I am able to respond, “I own a consultation company that does Equity, Anti-Oppression and LGBTQ trainings and education to schools and companies. It’s called Journeys InEquity.” There are people around Toronto and the GTA, as well as from other provinces who find value in this. We exchange cards and can follow up at a later date about workshop options for their school or company, or they recommend I reach out to a certain place to offer trainings. Another driver I met during Lyft’s “Women’s History Month” celebration is a self-published author who has her book in the backseat for her customers’ enjoyment. She has also been able to sell a few books on the spot. With any other job drivers do, there are always opportunities to network and connect with people interested in your work if the conversation comes up. Stay prepared.

9. Rideshare driving is safer than I anticipated
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The largest fear of most rideshare drivers – especially from women and non-binary femmes – is being in an unsafe situation with a customer. All drivers must pass an annual criminal background check, a motor vehicle report and a safety inspection for their vehicle. Subsequently, drivers have no idea about the history of any customers, the friends they travel with, nor anyone a customer orders a ride for. Drivers can boost personal and customer safety, road safety and in-car accountability measures by installing a dashcam to capture any moments they may need to report to Uber, Lyft or even the police. Customers can also place a report to Uber or Lyft under the specific trip they took. In my own experience, around 99% of my customers have been wonderful, while the remaining 1% have been threatening or dangerous. In these cases, I have either had to stop the car and tell a customer to exit or I’ve had to write a report to Uber or Lyft upon ride completion. On both platforms drivers and customers rate each other after each trip. With Uber, if 1 star is entered by either the customer or driver, they will not be matched again while the same is true for Lyft with 3 stars or less.

10. Rideshare driving is fun!

Rideshare driving is a very fun and unique job. Every shift is an adventure which allows me to see new parks, restaurants, neighbourhoods and more around Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. Rideshare driving also allows me to interact with customers who are local, are visiting from across Canada or from across the world. An immeasurable amount of thought-provoking conversations have been had and I’ve learned so much from these short-term conversations with people I will likely not see again. Some of my most memorable experiences with customers include picking up a Nollywood clothing designer who had left a movie screening I had seen the day before at Toronto International Film Festival. Another customer entered my car with an injured duckling who chirped away while nestled in a blanket, on their way to an animal clinic. Before the holiday season, a customer gifted me my first Krispy Kreme doughnut after I stopped briefly to allow her to pick up doughnuts for her workplace holiday party. I have also driven artists eager to introduce me to their own songs during the ride, which I’ve later heard on the radio.

Becoming a rideshare driver has been one of the most exciting and rewarding decisions I have ever made but between higher gas prices, cut wages, car payments, taxes and maintenance, it is not a decision I would ever suggest rushing into. So many drivers are on the roads now – which is great for customers in terms of wait times – making a profit becomes more and more difficult each year. Then there’s the looming fear drivers may eventually be replaced by self-driving cars. But for now I am having fun, providing great service and I’m happy to be along for the ride!

Jordyn Samuels is an educational consultant in the areas of Equity, Anti-Oppression and LGBTQ education. She is also a top rated rideshare driver for both Uber and Lyft. Twitter: @iiHeartPolitics

Photo by Anna Cianni/CBC

Read 530 times Last modified on Monday, 03 June 2019 09:06
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