After five weeks of waiting I finally got the all clear to drive for Uber.
I was beginning to think they might reject me.
But then I got the email:
“Congratulations Christopher John, you are now an Uber Partner!”
“It’s easy to start driving.”
“Just get in your car, turn on the Partner app, and you’re ready to go.”
No worries guys.
It only took me another four weeks to find time in my busy (semi) retirement schedule to fit it in.
What amazed me most about the signup process was the complete lack of hands on training.
That and the frustration of not being able to ring anyone, even with a quick question – you’ve got to message them (and wait).
I’d asked a driver about the training thing when I was still a passenger.
The young bloke laughed and told me he’d jumped straight in, recounting his first day behind the wheel.
His first passenger, he told me, was already pissed when he got in the the car and had a six pack that he intended to knock over by the time he got to the airport.
You’ve got to be bloody kidding!
You can watch a video online, that explains how the whole thing works – but it’s not quite the same.
Sure, it’s not rocket science, all you have to do is drive someone from point A to B.
But the reality can be a little daunting if not confusing, especially when you’re on the road for the first time, you’ve just picked up your first passenger EVER and your phone is still showing the bloody pickup screen.
I’VE GOT HER. I’VE GOT HER. YOU STUPID THING. NOW WHERE THE HELL DO I TO TAKE HER?
Before hitting the road for the first time, I should mention I got a decent cradle for my phone, one that was not going to fall off the windscreen when I went over a bump – plus some cheap cables in case someone wanted to charge their phone.
Some drivers even supply bottled water and lollies for passengers to nibble on – but that’s taking it a bit far in my opinion.
Besides, I’m a big, bear-like friendly kind of bloke – they’ll like me for who I am, I told myself.
The whole Uber thing revolves around two apps, one for passengers and another for drivers that you download to your phone.
Although you can download the driver app in preparation, you can’t actually access it until you’ve been approved.
After that it’s basically a choice of which navigation program to use – Waze or Google Maps – then you’re on your on your own.
I opted for Waze because it’s more user friendly, but more importantly keeps track of your speed with warnings for speed cameras.
So, after I’d finally run out of excuses, I topped up the tank and headed off.
After about 60 mins of complete nothingness, I began to worry the App was not working – that I wasn’t really online and no one could see me.
But then I finally got my first ping as I headed towards Parramatta in Sydney’s west.
You get 20 seconds to accept the request, before it goes to the next nearest driver.
It’s a good thing that cradle was firmly attached to the windscreen because I damn near knocked it off, I punched it so hard with my finger.
The pick up point was Wentworthville railway station.
It was a young woman who wanted to sit in the back seat, but the door was locked when she tried to get in.
In fact all the bloody doors were locked because that’s what my car is programed to do once you’re moving – instinctively I reached across the seat to open the passenger.
Sorry. I apologised.
I confessed it was my first day as a driver and she was my very first fare – then I apologised again in advance for any mistakes I might make.
I’m sure everyone does the same thing.
She smiled but didn’t have much to say.
The trip took just under 10 minutes and I covered just over 4.5 kilometres, for which I received the princely sum of $9.82 cents.
Did I mention Uber takes a 25 per cent cut.
For those who started driving before April last year however it’s only 20 per cent.
Now that’s not very fair?
In all I did six trips that day in a six-hour period, including one from Parramatta to Sydney airport – a trip I’d made often as a passenger.
As the sun began to sink low in the sky and the traffic was starting to bank up, my last fare turned out to be a bloke on his way to the physio who wanted to make a stop to change his shirt on the way.
I wasn’t sure whether this was kosher, but I wasn’t about to argue the toss – not on my first day.
As it turned out he kept me waiting about five minutes, the traffic took much longer.
Tired but relieved after I eventually dropped him off, I decided it was time to head for home.
I’d covered 220km in the course of the day – 66 of them paid kilometres.
My take home pay? $132, less the $80 bucks that Uber deducted for the Driver Authority card – remember that?
Not sure I’m going to make my fortune doing this and with more and more people reportedly taking up the option to drive for Uber, it’s only going to get tougher.
It’s also a far cry from my former life as a jet-setting, international motoring journalist – but after 20 years in the job I’d had my fill of planes, travel, fatty food and too much beer.
I’ll miss some of the blokes though.