5 Things You Only Know If You're A Female Uber Driver
The Debrief: I’ve picked up Hollywood film directors, playwrights, musicians, prostitutes, investment bankers, people coming from holidays, people com-ing from hospital, people coming from breakups, people coming from bridges they were thinking of throwing themselves from.
London is a different place at four on a Tuesday morning. There’s the odd bus rumbling by, a few warbles from the starlings, a few paranoid-looking flaneurs. In certain parts of town, market vendors are trading. Other than that, it’s quiet. There aren’t any emails or phone calls to ignore, the postman hasn’t dropped a dreaded penalty notice through the letterbox. It’s as though the city’s taken a deep breath and exhaled in preparation for a new day.
My alarm goes off at four. Sometimes I’ll snooze until five. Sometimes I’ll reset it at five, too, and once more at six, which exasperates my boyfriend. By that point, I’ve missed the peak hours and resigned myself to doing the hit-and-miss evening shift. The money’s just not there in the day. Four is prime time. At that hour, the roads are clear and the majority of people are heading to the airports. They give you a brief 'Morning' before passing out in the back with their mouths wide open. The ones who do stay awake tend to stare out of the window in the hope that you won’t bother them with idle chat. It’s only as the sun comes up over the Westway that they start to talk. 'You’re my first female Uber driver,' they say. 'I bet you get that all the time.'
1. What are the Uber driver requirements in the UK?
I’ve been driving with Uber for a year. You can't just join up to become an Uber driver willy-nilly. You can apply to be a driver with Uber here.
Uber driver requirements UK
Pass a few tests - mainy topographical skills assessment tests
And you have to have a full UK driving licence as well as buy or hire your own car.
So it's quite an investment.
How long does it take to be an Uber driver in the UK?
The whole process took me about six months. You’re employed on a freelance basis so you can work when you like, which suits me as a freelance writer – although once you start, you realise you’re going to have to work a lot if you want to make money. A lot of people are taken aback by my age, sex and accent - I think this tugs at their sense of privilege. I’ve lost count of the amount of people who, embarrassed, have insisted that they would’ve taken public transport were it not for the rain, the time, their hangover. There are the odd few who want you to feel subservient, whose enjoyment of service seems dependent on a near Victorian level of entitlement and dismissal. But they are few and far between. Some are grateful for a woman driver. Most people are excited to see someone different driving and interested to hear about the job.
There’s nowhere I feel more of a taxi driver than McDonald’s carpark, Peggy Bedford, a few miles outside of Heathrow airport. I go inside, get a coffee and a water, head back to my car, give a nod to the driver in the car next to me, resume reading Moby Dick, wait for a job. I feel so much of a taxi driver, I worry that I’m subconsciously putting on an act. I have to tell myself, 'You have every right to be here, drinking a coffee, accepting nods from your fellow drivers, reading Moby Dick. This is your job.'
The McDonald’s is one of few places with what is like gold dust in London: free parking near clean toilets. On a good day, if I’m visibly distressed, a kind Shell employee might allow me to use their staff facilities, usually an Australian dunny reachable through a mountain of crisps boxes, a mop bucket and three trolleys of semi-skimmed milk. I envy men when I see them piss against a wall without a care in the world.
2. Is being an Uber driver safe?
In terms of safety, I wouldn’t say being a female driver is any different to being a female passenger. You know you’re probably safe but don’t take it for granted. I’ve driven over 700 passengers and there’s only been one time that I felt unsettled by someone’s behaviour. Nothing happened, luckily, but I was sort of spooked. Drunks are no trouble unless they’re throwing up on the back seat. Listening to people talking dross or singing terribly is par for the course.
3. How does the Uber rating system work?
You don’t know who you’re picking up until they get in the car. The only information drivers are given is the passenger’s rating and approximate location. We drivers rate you, too, you know. I’ve never turned down a trip based on a rating but if I saw a passenger had three stars, I probably would. I keep an eye on my own rating but only ‘cos it’s addictive trying to keep it high. If I see it’s dropped that week, I hold a little grudge against the passengers I think might have marked me down. Come on, don’t be a pedant, just give me five stars!
After accepting the job, you get their name and exact location and only when you start the trip do you see where they’re going. I’ve picked up Hollywood film directors, playwrights, musicians, investment bankers, prostitutes, people coming from holidays, people coming from hospital, people coming from breakups, people coming from bridges they were thinking of throwing themselves from. I love that the spectrum of people getting Ubers had broadened out since I started. But regardless of their age or background, almost all of them are extremely nice. There’s the odd bore or dope, then it can be a bit like community service. But most people have something to say.
4. Who are the best Uber cutsomers?
Some people want privacy and a bit of peace from the outside world. I always feel slightly guilty that I’m not more of an android with them. I try not to cough. Other people are keen to talk, either about themselves or about you. Because it’s usually one-on-one, you get to know people pretty quickly. A taxi is a really intimate space. I remember picking up a man who was heading home to his family after leaving a work do. He told me how he had been close to going home with another woman. We had quite a frank discussion about relationships. It’s not often I get to hear about a 50-year-old man’s experience of marriage. I hope he worked it all out. It’s surprising how invested you can become in someone, even knowing you’ll probably never see them again. There’s something very compelling and human about stories, I think.
In the midst of rush hour, you think what a sprawling dumping ground of nonsense London really is. Cars queue head-to-toe belching black smoke into what’s left of the atmosphere. Media kids chat rubbish on the phone. New skyscrapers tear through the skyline like mindless slashes through an oil painting. You get depressed thinking that our generation will be remembered for – and probably outlived by – the Walkie-Talkie or one of the upcoming glass erections. The city seems like fertile ground for bad ideas.
As rush hour subsides, you lose the GCSE cynicism. The evenings, in particular, cast the city in a romantic light. There are some striking vistas all across the city that you don’t notice as much in the day, from Primrose Hill in the north to Shooter’s Hill in the south. The skyscrapers and cranes that seem such an eyesore in the daylight are only visible by the red lights illuminating their great height to incoming planes. At that time, the darkness is filled with these strangely beautiful manmade constellations that change formation depending on where you’re coming from. The driving at night is mostly uninterrupted, and zooming over the river and past Buckingham Palace brings out the teenage boy in me. Sometimes you just have to put on some Wu-Tang and go with it. There’s also something quite meditative about driving when it’s quiet. Moving through space and time helps put everything else in its place.
5. What's the best thing about being an Uber driver?
I can understand people thinking of taxi driving as a dead-end job. It definitely has its downsides. You have to put in the hours, it can be physically exhausting, the traffic can be infuriating and it’s not a ‘career’. You don’t harbour aspirations of graduating to Uber Exec and then Uber Lux. But it does have its benefits. Thanks to taxiing, I know where to find the cheapest petrol and best car wash in London. I’ve somehow managed to get more copywriting and journalism work than in three years of being freelance. I’ve had lengthy conversations with people I would never have the pleasure of meeting in my relatively repetitive life. And I’ve realised that not much beats listening to the radio – Radio 4, a mix or occasionally the mellow hours on Magic – while drifting through Kensington or Croydon or Kings Cross in the dead of a Tuesday night.
Can you be an Uber driver if you don't own a car?
In a word, no. You need to own your own car to become an Uber driver, and your car must meet all the necessary safety requirements. In America there are some companies that will lease you a car specifically to driver as an Uber driver, however they take a big chunk out of your profits. Uber itself is now offering financing options for potential drivers who don't have cars - but make sure you read the Ts&Cs carefully before you sign on the dotted line.
Can you rent a car and become an Uber driver?
Not in the UK - although companies like Breeze offer this sort of service in America.
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