Riding smart, Uber smart

Uber hq- 24.7.18
I tried ubering from the Uber headquarters on Market Street in SF.

Written on 8 September 2018

A friend introduced me to Uber some time back in Australia.

On a solo trip to California recently, I decided to utilise Uber. It’s generally cheaper than cabbing. Uber has become so popular that expressions like ‘ubering’ and ‘ubered’ have become widely understood.

I spent two night nights in Brisbane, Australia, prior to my travel to Los Angeles – the first night in a self-contained apartment in Hamilton and the second night in a bright orange lodge near the Valley – all Airbnb. The minute I walked into the lodge, I wished I hadn’t left the cosy self-contained apartment near the Brisbane River in Hamilton. So much for raking up Qantas frequent flyer points, I thought, annoyed with myself.

I had Ubered from Hamilton and the driver, Dave, was a lively young man. He even offered me bottled water. I planned to rate him a five star after he dropped me off.

I left my luggage bag and a bag of shopping from Woolworths at the reception area. ‘Your room is not quite ready yet. Please fill in your details here,” the woman at the reception pointed to a piece of paper, “and sign at the bottom. You might want to get some lunch nearby while we finish cleaning up your room. You can leave your luggage at the corner over there,” she pointed to a little space near the only couch in the room.

I asked her directions to get into the city. “There’s a stop just outside here on the other side of the road,” she pointed out the window. “All buses that stop there will take you into the city”. I thanked her and was on my way.

Of course I missed the stop. My sense of direction is poor to the point of being ridiculous. If anyone says something like ‘go east, then turn right after 500 metres’ it’s definite I will get lost.

I thought I’d use some logic so I surveyed the skyline. Ah, there are tall buildings that way which means the city is in that direction. I followed a path that led to an inside street. A mix of residential homes and small offices lined up the one way street. There was a sign on a white picket fence for a practicing law firm. A young woman was walking her dog next door. She smiled at me when I walked past. There was a castle shaped café further down the road and it looked so cute I almost stopped by for lunch. I kept walking until I saw a street sign that had one of the royal names – can’t remember if it was Albert, George or Mary – and I knew the main Queen Street was not too far off.

When I reached the main street, I settled for an Asian eatery opposite the road. I had rice and some Thai beef stew (my first real meal for the day) and watched people going by. The tall buildings that I had seen earlier were offices. It was lunch time and people were coming out of the buildings for a smoke or to have a bite. There was a seven eleven next door. I made a mental note to pick up Cornetto ice cream, something sweet like lemonade and water after I was done with lunch. There was also a self-serve burger place and a posh coffee shop.

By the time I arrived at the lodge, it was 2pm. I saw a bus stopping near the curb and realised that was the bus stop the reception woman was talking about. The stop was right next to the path I had taken. Anywaaaaay, I picked up my room key, wifi password and bags and climbed the steep stairs to the room.

The winter chills were still in the air and I did not feel like taking a shower yet. I rested for half an hour then I requested Uber to drop me off at Luggage Direct in West End.

The Uber driver had the radio on and smiled at me as I got in. “How’s your day been?” I asked him. “Pretty good, pretty good. Been up since 5am,” he said. He asked if I was ok with the radio on.

I took my time inspecting the different suitcases at Luggage Direct. The good old blue hard cover Caribee suitcase that had been my travelling companion for many years was worn out. The rats from 5 Mile in Port Moresby had also chewed a bit off at the top too so it was time for a new suitcase. I was happy with my light wine red Delsey suitcase purchase. My first solo trip to the USA, I thought, might as well step out in a bit of style.

The afternoon sun hit my face as I waited for my Uber ride. I checked my phone – my ride was a minute away.

I set my time for an early rise the next morning for the 10 am direct flight to LA.

I promised myself when I got to LA to hike to the Hollywood sign and sweat off some jet lag and get my body a little used to the 13 hour time difference. That was difficult, trying to tell my body it was midnight when it knew perfectly well, like it had for the last 30+ years that it was 5pm and almost dinner time back home.

When I arrived in LA, I couldn’t do roaming from my Australian number for some reason and was heavily dependent on free wifi. Free wifi havens like Starbucks and Maccas were my target.

I took a walk one morning down Grand View Boulevard in Venice and picked up a flat white from Starbucks. Using the free wifi, I requested an Uber ride.

The Uber app on my phone picked up about 10 drivers nearby. Five minutes later, the plate number and make of car that appeared on my phone screen parked outside Starbucks. I got in.  I was the only passenger. This was my first Uber experience in the USA. The young driver casually said hi and we were on our way. We picked up a young man then a black American school girl along the way.

After the morning hike, I caught the Metro to Hollywood. The Metro had free wifi and I quickly checked in online for my evening flight to San Francisco. I still had some time to kill. I was here earlier in the week and had lunch at the Hard Rock Café. There was free wifi. I ordered a berry and pineapple blended juice and requested an Uber ride. About 30 rides popped up on my screen and ‘to give Uber 15 minutes while they scanned for one nearest to me’. Less than five minutes later, I was notified ‘to walk 2 minutes to north Orange Drive’, the nearest pick up point near Hard Rock Café.

I walked quickly to the pick-up point, crashing into Shrek and a man on the loud hailer heralding the sale of souvenior tshirts selling at $5. Shrek was fuming. I scanned the cars lining up for the plate number I was given. Five minutes later, there was still no sign of my Uber ride. My gut feeling told me I was standing in the wrong place. I walked back to Hard Rock Café to use the free wifi, cancelled the ride and ordered another ride at the same pick up point. When my ride was 3 minutes away, I walked back to the same place, again scanning the many cars lined up on the side and scanned the many more driving through Hollywood Boulevard – I realised that was the craziest idea ever, I mean how many cars drive through Hollywood Boulevard each day and here I was trying to single out one car?

I half walked and half ran back to Hard Rock Café to cancel the trip and ordered another. This time, I put Hotel Roosevelt as pick up point.

By now, I had walked past the TCL Chinese Theatre, Madame Tussauds and walked the many Hollywood footprints so many times already I could tell you exactly how many steps it took in normal walk and in half walk/half run.

I told myself this was going to be my last attempt and I would resort to cabbing. I had been trying to locate my Uber rides for close to an hour now. I took a screen shot of my Uber ride details and crossed the road to Hotel Roosevelt.

I took a quick photo of Vin Diesel’s star outside the hotel entrance and kept an eye out for my ride. I decided to stand aside from the many others standing in front of the hotel in the hope my driver could recognise that I was looking for a ride and not touristing.

Three minutes later, I saw the white Buick, parked on the other side of the Hotel Roosevelt. I waved at the driver and he waved for me to cross the road. The wait for the green light on the pedestrian crossing seemed like an eternity! Forget about the pictures of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the TCL Chinese Theatre that I looked over many times on the internet before my travel – I was just so happy to get out of Hollywood Boulevard.

There was already another passenger in the car, a young woman with many shopping bags and she took up the back seat. I hopped into the front seat, avoiding the glaring eyes of the Asian American driver. I apologised profusely to the driver and the passenger for making them wait. “The pick-up point is on this side, not that side” the driver responded.  Mi save ya, inap o (I know, enough already) I thought to myself.

I arrived in San Francisco after 10 pm local time. It’s easy to get around the airport in San Francisco – signs are easy to follow. I ordered a shared ride on Uber and took the elevator to Level 3 to wait for my ride. There were other people also waiting for their rides. When my ride rolled up, two young boys were already seated at the back and I got in front. Our driver was a black American young woman. I said a quick hi to everyone and leaned back on the seat. I was tired. The driver, Shen, was playing tunes from her iphone and they were in a discussion about music. I picked out from the discussions they were having that one of the young men in the back seat was a dj. The driver played another song. “Deep. That song reminds me of an ex,” said the dj. Everyone laughed, I smiled.

I made sure I visited Uber hq on Market Street in San Francisco. I gazed at the glass and concrete building for a while. Amazing how working smart can make billions in profits. Uber started as a simple idea: what if you could request a ride from your phone? And using a map on the phone, it connected a driver to a passenger via GPS.

Uber is a ridesharing service transportation company (it has also expanded to include food delivery service) and was founded in 2009 in San Francisco.

In 2011, Uber went international and was launched in Paris.

Today, Uber operates in more than 600 cities in 86 countries.

To me, Uber speaks a universal language. I can use Uber in Australia and in America on one app.

I decided to do some research on share riding companies around the world.

Lyft is Uber’s best known competitor. Many people would tend to have both Uber and Lyft apps on their phones, and use one or the other based on preference, availability and price.

Ola is India’s Uber – they offer all sorts of rides including rickshaws. Tokyo have Takkun (Tokyo’s largest dispatching system) and reports indicate the fees are cheaper than Uber.

99 is popular in Rio and well-known throughout Brazil and expanding into the European market. 99 uses PayPal as the mode of payment.

Didi Chuxing is used in China.

On my return trip from California to Brisbane where I spent another two days before returning home to Port Moresby, I chatted with an Uber driver from Ethiopia, Africa.

Tony summed up the Uber driving experience.

“I drive for Uber mostly in the mornings and evenings and on school holidays. I like driving on Saturday nights, that’s when the demand is the highest and few people want to drive other people around.

Driving for Uber is flexible and puts extra cash into the pocket. I am studying for a Masters at the university and I have no one to get home to except my books so I spend my extra time driving for Uber,” said Tony.

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