Driving for Uber and Lyft is usually pretty mundane. You don’t get crazy passengers all that often — thankfully — because crazy passengers come with a lot of baggage. Sure, they give you good stories to tell and re-tell for years to come, but I’m not sure that makes up for the damage they do or pain they might inflict.
In fact, some “crazy” passengers can put a driver’s job at risk or his health and every now and then his life. Very rarely does a driver escape a brush with a wild and crazy passenger with just a good laugh and some funny stories. These experiences usually come with some degree of pain and suffering for the driver.
Here, let me share a few driving stories and see if you get the idea.
During a ride when Uber first came to town, I picked up a foreign exchange student along with some of his friends from a bar near the college they attended.
The college was having a welcome reception for all the new students. As they approached my car, I could see that he and his friends seemed a little "off." And by “a little off” I mean they were drunk out of their minds. A couple of them were on the sad side while the other couple were more on the agitated side. I couldn’t tell if they were going to fight or cry, but I knew something bad was headed my way.
Halfway through the ride, the friend who was sitting in the back middle seat suddenly started freaking out. He pulled his MacBook Pro out of his backpack and started smashing it against the back window of my car. Startled, I immediately pulled over and demanded that he get out. His friends, though, were insistent that we finish the trip and they assured me they would take care of him and make sure he did no further damage.
The guy on each side of him each held one of his arms down until we got to the destination. Halfway there, though, that same guy broke into tears and cried his eyes out the rest of the ride!
In the end, they made it all worth my time with a rare $100 cash tip. It was a nice gesture, but I was never sure if it made up for the scratches left behind on my door. There’s always a cost to the driver for these bizarre stories.
That was one of the weirdest rides I had had until one night when I got a call to pick up a couple from an MMA fight at an arena in town.
When I arrived at their pickup location, I saw the two of them standing there, a grown man and a grown woman. They looked like nice people, and I had no idea what was coming my way.
Upon entering my car, they immediately started bickering. They didn’t want to keep their bickering private. They made it apparent before we even got out of the parking lot that they wanted to drag me into it. Each of them wanted me to take their side.
There were cars everywhere and it was taking what felt like forever just to get out of the parking lot — as usually happens during sporting events and concerts.
When it was finally my turn to exit out onto the street, out of nowhere this massive white lifted Ford F-150 comes barreling the wrong way down the street and headed straight toward the car in front of me. It stopped just before it hit it, and four guys jumped out of each vehicle and start beating the crap out of each other. Fortunately, the police showed up in near record time.
All this time I'm still sitting behind that car watching the fight and fearing for my life. But at the same time the couple in the back seat had not shut up, and they were still trying to suck me into their fight. They were going at it so hard they didn’t even notice the street brawl going on right in front of us.
Once everything finally cleared, I took them to their destination without saying a word. I decided after that ride I would head home, so I drove the 30 minutes back across town. Just as I pulled into my driveway, I noticed the grown woman had left her cell phone in the back seat. I drove all the way back across town to their location where I found them still fighting. I wasn’t sure how they’d react when they saw me again, but I rang their bell and told them I had their phone. They were so pleased they tipped $100. No joke. It was crazy, but awesome!
People don’t realize, but when there is a traffic or driving law that effects Uber rides, it is ultimately up to the driver to enforce it. If passengers request a driver to do something that’s illegal, there are no police on the scene. There is no one from Uber shaking a finger and saying, “No, no, no… that’s not allowed.” All of that falls to the driver.
So one Friday night, I was out driving and picking up college kids from the local bars and transporting them to other local bars. I got a ping, and when I arrived at the pickup location, four drunk college kids got in. They closed the doors and I thought we were on our way, so I started the trip on the app and pulled out of the parking space.
The minute the car was in motion one of the kids shouted, “Wait! Stop!” So, I stopped, and suddenly one of the back doors flung open and another kid piled in. Since I wasn’t drunk, though, I immediately knew that was too many kids in the back seat.
I’m allowed, by state law, to drive four passengers and no more, and my state takes that law very seriously. In fact, they have cops staking out the local bars, looking for this specific violation. I told the college kids that one of them, or all of them, have to get out. I was adamant and firm in my resolution not to break this particular law. The penalties are really stiff and not something I needed on my driving record.
The kid in the front seat said, “Ah, come on man, we’re just going a few blocks and no cops will see us.” I said, “No.” He pleaded more, “Please, just take us, we’re almost there!” I felt like saying if we’re almost there then why don’t you just walk? But I remembered I had started the trip which means they would now have the ability to rate me. Once a driver indicates to the app that the trip has begun, the passenger will always have the ability to rate the driver. If I hadn’t pushed the “Start Trip” button in the driver app, they couldn’t have left a rating and I would have kicked them all out on the spot.
But knowing they could rate me now, I wanted to try to handle it in the most diplomatic way possible, so they wouldn’t have additional reasons to give me a one-star rating.
Finally, the kid in the front seat made his best offer, he said, “if you take us, I’ll give you a really big tip.” To which I replied, “How are you going to give a big enough tip to compensate me in case a cop does pull us over and gives me a ticket for this, which would then lead to me being deactivated by Uber for at least the next three years until this violation expires from my record? And how are you going to give me a big enough tip to compensate me for the higher insurance rates I’ll have to pay for the next few years as a result of a ticket?”
With that, he realized I wasn’t going to change my mind so he motioned for his buddies to get out. Phew! That ended relatively drama-free. But a few minutes later I got a notice on the Uber driver app telling me someone had complained that I had acted in an “unprofessional manner.” Upon checking my rating, it had sure enough gone down by the exact amount it would have gone down if someone had left me one star. I tried to contact Uber to let them know the reason they gave me one star is because I wouldn’t break the law for them. Uber, as usual, didn’t care.
There’s always a cost to the driver for these crazy stories.
I mentioned that it falls to drivers to enforce any laws that are relevant during a rideshare trip. It also falls to drivers to enforce any rules Uber itself may impose on passengers.
Recently Uber issued a new rule requiring all drivers and all passengers to wear face masks during Uber trips. That strikes me as a reasonable requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic, because we drivers may have up to 15-20 people in our car in a single day. We’re cooped up with them in a very small space with no ventilation, making it the ideal conditions for the virus to spread.
Literally, the first passenger I picked up on Monday morning after this new rule went into effect didn’t have a face mask with them. I told them, “No mask, no ride.” They started yelling at me! But fortunately for me, this time I did not start the trip before everything settled so I knew I could cancel it which would leave them with no way to give me a bad rating or even complain about me. (As part of Uber’s new face mask rule, they have also said they are no longer going to count trip cancellations against drivers — so we’re free to cancel as much as we want now).
The next passenger that day was wearing a face mask but had it pulled down below his nose, which is basically the same as not wearing a mask at all. I don’t understand why people even bother with the mask in the first place if they’re not going to cover both their mouth and their nose, but this guy was one of those.
So, I asked him nicely if he wouldn’t mind pulling it up to cover his nose. He looked annoyed but complied to appease me. I asked him if he would feel safe riding around with me, cooped up in my car, if my mouth and nose weren’t both covered and he said, “No.” But of course, he left me a low rating.
That’s the thing about Uber rules … it’s up to the driver to enforce them, but drivers put themselves in jeopardy of getting bad ratings if they do try to enforce them. But this COVID-19 rule, I am definitely going to enforce that. I am not going to take unnecessary risks with my health or my life to drive for Uber.
And I’m no longer going to put myself in a position to get bad ratings from passengers who don’t want to do the right thing and wear masks — and wear them properly. From now on, whenever a passenger walks up to my car either without a mask or with one but one that’s not worn properly, I’m just going to cancel the trip and drive off. The minute you so much as ask these people to do the right thing, you know you’re going to get a bad rating. I’m only going to take people who don’t have to be asked.
As long as I haven’t tapped “Start Trip,” they can never rate me. It may anger them to no end, and they may be shouting and screaming at me as I drive off, but there’s no retribution they can take out against me.