Uber is a very big deal. Since launching in San Francisco in 2011, it's quickly marched across the planet, conquering 243 cities in 63 countries, with 1 million users in London alone. In fact, you probably used the app this weekend to cart yourself home at 5AM, because surge pricing doesn't matter when you've drunk 11 pints and can't actually use your legs functionally to get to a night bus.
However, despite its popularity, the company is also fraught with controversy, prompting countless protests and a bunch of negative news stories. Yesterday, for example, a driver in California made the news for pepper-spraying a drunk and aggressive passenger. Closer to home, last month Uber won a high court case brought against it by Transport for London (TFL) that challenged the legality of the app. Despite winning the case, Uber also came under scattergun fire from London Mayor Boris Johnson, who claimed that "Uber drivers break the laws in lots of ways".
Even if we disregard Johnson's completely unsubstantiated comments, the company's effect on London's black cab drivers has been profound, with the relatively straight-forward process of buying a sat-nav and becoming one of Uber's 20,000 UK "partners" making a mockery of The Knowledge, the in-depth test of the capital's streets that all aspiring black cab drivers have to undertake.
Regardless of all that, though, Uber is here for the long haul. With this in mind, I spoke to some of London's Uber drivers to find out what they really think of their passengers.
MOST OF YOU ARE QUITE NICE WHEN YOU'RE DRUNK
You might think that picking up the wasted human totems of Binge Britain would be a chore: an assault course of tears, fights, fingering and drunken demands to turn up Magic FM to full blast. Not so, according to Ali, 28, from Holland: "Drunk people are funnier," he says. "They make jokes. Sometimes they are lame jokes, but they're funny 'cos they're so lame. But they're nice people."
Neha, 31, from Pakistan agrees: "Drunk people are very open; they will talk about their lives, talk about their office party, their girlfriend's birthday, or whatever," she says. "They are generally nicer than the sober people, who just sit quietly and don't want you to open up so much. I never have fear from them."
George, a 53-year-old from Romania, isn't so effusive in his praise. "It is about 50/50, friendly to not friendly," he says. "And I don't like it when they are screaming between themselves. I just think, 'Can't they talk normally?'"
So yeah, when you get in an Uber, don't be afraid to ask questions and offer insights into that internal monologue of yours: drivers tend to like it, as anything that helps pass the time is a bonus. But maybe just don't scream about it directly into their ear.
SOHO IS WHERE YOU GET THE MOST PISSHEADS
"Soho. Most of them are drunk there," says Ali.
Neha agrees: "In Soho, people normally are very, very dunk. Out of control. Especially the girls; 21, 22-year-old girls. They don't know where they are. They are upside down in my car."
So that's that.
THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO: THROW UP ON THE SEATS
George, who's been working for Uber for 15 months, has had two people do a backseat sick-up since joining. "It's the worst thing that customers can do, because they've got to give me the money for the cleaning," he says. "But I spend that money on cleaning the car, and Uber don't pay [me] for the waste of my time. If I'm with someone in Streatham – let's say at midnight – and they are sick, then I need to get back to Old Street [where the Great American Carwash company is open 24 hours]. So it's a half hour to 45-minute [journey] to wash the car, when no one is paying me."
Both Ali and Neha agree with George, though they've come up with their own remedy to the problem.
"I've got airplane sick bags in my car," says Ali. "If I see a drunk person get in, I let them know they've got the bag if they need it. That gives the customer more security that they've got something to help them out. It gives them more responsibility; they're more friendly and I think they become more aware."
So basically, don't vom. And if you aren't sure if you're going to throw up all over yourself or not, tell your driver early doors. They'd obviously rather know, and that way can keep an eye on you to make sure you make it home without getting sick on their box-fresh floor mats. But still: just don't vom.
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HOW TO GET A GOOD PASSENGER RATING
In the same way that drivers don't know what rating you've given them, you as a passenger can't see how you've been scored. But if you regularly take Ubers shitfaced, chances are: not very highly.
"As long as they are respectful, then I will give them a good rating," says Ali. "They can ask to turn on the the radio, plug in a charger, whatever. Some guys get in shouting, 'Turn up the radio! Turn up the radio!' Or shouting at me, asking me to drive faster. If you just said, 'Mate, I'm a bit late, can you drive faster please?' then of course I will drive faster. But I don't argue back. I don't want to throw petrol on the fire. You can give them, like, three stars or two stars and leave a comment. I think the lowest I gave was a three, and that was a customer [who had been] shouting about the radio and asking me to drive faster."
Neha generally echoes these points, but adds: "The thing that annoys me is if you drop a pin at the wrong place and I'm two minutes round the corner. I say, 'Can you walk to me?' and people refuse to do it. Like: 'Why am I paying for this service?' If it's in central London, it can be very difficult to get to that spot. But I will still pick that customer up, of course. To teach them, I will tell them, 'Please don't do that sort of thing. And don't do it with another driver, because you will get a bad rating.' And I might maybe drop [their rating] to a four star. I probably do one four star a week. If I see they are a nice person, my heart changes."
George has some more straightforward advice: "Just be normal."
So now you know: don't shout, don't kick up a fuss about walking 20 metres and don't do anything weird, like try to shine a driver's bald head with your tongue. Essentially: don't be a prick.
UBER IS SAFER THAN MINICABS, FOR THEM AND FOR YOU
Amid the rush to crucify Uber for its slow razing of the great British black cab, it's also important to remember that it helps people, often immigrants, find safe, reliable work.
"Because I come from a minicab company, my standards are really low," says Ali. "In a minicab company, you get people that run away, customers that are offensive. You go to Uber and the customers are all polite You have the rating system, and [passengers] care about the rating system, so they are extra polite and respectful."
"I worked three years for a different company," says Neha. "I've been doing this the last two and I've had no bad experiences – touch wood. So far, so good. When I worked for the minicabs I was robbed three times; they smashed my window, took my bag. So Uber is very, very safe. The customers know they don't have to deal with cash. I know they don't, so I'm not going to have lots of money in the car. Also, we have people's home address and their banking, so it's safe. Everybody's happy."
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