Who, in a million years, ever thought that the ridesharing idea would fly? You’re going to pay total strangers to drive you around in their own cars? Really now?
Well, yes. Services like Lyft and Uber may have decimated the taxi industry and clogged big-city streets with cars. But they also allow millions of drivers to work on their own schedules, permit millions of riders to save money, keep a lot of drunken drivers from taking the wheel, free up a lot of parking spaces, and give just about everyone an endless source of conversation starters.
Still, there are challenges for both riders and drivers: Finding each other, communicating with each other, coexisting with each other. That’s why, in the previous episode of “Crowdwise,” I invited you to share your tips for improving the ridesharing experience. Here’s what you came up with.
Better ways to summon your ride
Most people begin by opening the corresponding app (Lyft or Uber, for example). But Phoebe Mortensen noted that you can save time and money by starting in other apps.
Google Maps: On the Directions tab, where you see options like driving, public transport and walking, tap the ride-sharing icon: the microscopic man holding up his infinitesimal arm. “At that point, Google Maps shows you price and waiting-time comparisons of Lyft and Uber — information you can’t get in their own apps,” wrote Ms. Mortensen. Once you’ve chosen the service you want, hit Open App to complete the transaction.
Apple Siri/Google Assistant: On your phone, you can say, for example, “Hey Siri, get me a ride to 200 West 79th Street with Lyft” or “Hey Google, book an Uber to JFK Airport.” You’re asked to specify the details. Speaking your destination is always less finicky than typing it on glass.
Amazon Alexa/Google Home: If you have an Amazon Echo smart speaker, you can say “Alexa, ask Lyft to call a ride” or “Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride.” If your robo-assistant speaks Google instead, say “O.K. Google” instead of “Alexa.”
Summoning a ride is easy. Finding your driver can be substantially trickier.
You get a license-plate number and car description; the driver gets a tiny photo of your head. If the neighborhood is busy, dark, or nondescript, that may not be enough.
If you’re smart, you’ll seek a safer spot. “Your pickup address does not have to be exactly where you’re standing,” driver Jeffrey Castro wrote. “Choose addresses where the driver can pull over and not block traffic. From a safety perspective, everyone benefits, and your neighbors will appreciate less honking.”
According to driver Tom Deehan (15,500 Lyft rides and counting), the walk-a-short-distance trick can also save you time and money. “At bar closing time, or after concerts and sporting events, everyone orders their Lyfts and Ubers from the same location, causing traffic jams. Walk a block or two away, and then request your ride. You’ll get picked up much faster and you’ll likely save money on surge pricing.”
Finally, often, the app plants your “pin” at the wrong location on the map in the driver’s map. Far better to enter your address manually — or, as Ray Roig noted, to use the name of a building or place of business. “Both Uber and Lyft are built on Google Maps, and the app will recognize the name.”
In my call for submissions, I requested tips for making ridesharing “smarter, more efficient, or more economical.” One reader noted sardonically that I must be a man, because I didn’t mention “safer.”
She’s right. Getting into a male stranger’s car alone can be frightening if you’re female.
When your ride arrives, “ask the driver for the name of the passenger they are picking up. If it’s not your name, or she or he can’t say, do not get in,” wrote Mikki Ashe and, similarly, Carol Mitchell.
Salomé Mirigay shares every ride’s details with someone she trusts, using the “Share location” or “Share status” button that appears in the app after a driver has accepted your request. The recipient can then monitor her progress on a live, moving map. “It’s comforting that someone has your itinerary and driver’s information in case of emergency,” she noted.
Once you’re in the car, Gillian Horn advises, “sit directly behind the driver. That way, it’s harder for the driver to physically reach you.”
“That being said,” added Julia Butler, “I’ve learned that drivers can get just as nervous about picking up passengers as we may get about drivers. One said to me, ‘We drivers have to pass background checks — but I have no idea who is getting into my car.’ So, caution andempathy!”
Last safety tip: When you reach your destination, open the door on the curb side. “It’s amazing how many people get out of the car into traffic,” Teri Green observed.
After each ride, the app asks you to rate your driver (1 to 5 stars). What you may not realize is that your driver also rates you. (To see your average Uber rating, open its main menu. To find out your Lyft rating, ask your driver, or contact the company.)
If there were a Rude Passenger Hall of Fame, no driver would have trouble coming up with nominees: riders who eat stinky or sloppy food in the car, leave the seats covered with crumbs, vape or smoke pot during the ride, slam the doors, make advances on their female drivers, and so on. Those are good ways to get low, low ratings from your drivers.
And what difference does your rating make? “If you rate a driver 3 stars or below, Lyft will not match you with that driver again. But drivers have the same option: if we rate a passenger 3 stars or below, we won’t have to deal with them again,” Jean MacDonald revealed.
Furthermore, a driver isn’t allowed to refuse your pickup request based on your destination. But Ray Roig reported that they are allowed to turn you down if you have a low rating.
Bottom line: Be a jerk, and you’ll have more trouble getting rides.
Courtesy and Tips
“Crowdwise” readers’ most copious category of tips involved courtesy.
“The very first thing I say is, ‘Thank you for picking me up today!’” wrote Glenn Roesler. “It relaxes the driver and often makes them forget, at least momentarily, their last unpleasant rider — and a relaxed driver is always a good thing.”
Then there’s the awkward conversation question. How do you say that you’re not in the mood to chat without seeming antisocial?
“A nice way to phrase it is, ‘I’m so exhausted. Is it all right if we just listen to music instead of chatting?’” proposed Maria Travaille. “Works every time. Honestly, the driver probably doesn’t really want to talk to you, either.”
Or carry a book, wrote Okuta Onfire. “It’s more polite than gazing at your smartphone.”
Many, many drivers wrote to say how rarely riders tip them. “Drivers make a lot less than you think,” pointed out driver Jean MacDonald. “Even a small tip is a nice pat on the back.” She points out that Uber and Lyft keep a substantial chunk of the fare you pay — 20 or 25 percent, plus various fees that can eat up another 25 percent — but the driver gets all of your tip.
By the way: If you tip in the app, the driver doesn’t find out until after having rated you. That’s one reason Matt Morgan always tips in cash. “The driver gets instant gratification, you make their day better, and you’re bound to get a 5-star passenger rating!”
Unless the driver’s behavior was egregious or dangerous, John Bordeaux always gives 5 stars and a tip, “Whatever kind of day I may be having, I’m in the back seat, and they’re fighting traffic.”
Most of the time, you probably use Uber or Lyft for immediate pickup from the spot where you’re standing. But that’s not the end of these apps’ flexibility.
Physical help: Marjorie NYC discovered Uber Assist, which summons a driver who’s trained and ready to help with big packages, extra luggage, or equipment like wheelchairs, walkers and scooters. It’s available in 40 cities and costs nothing extra. “This feature saved me after surgery and when going to airport with too much luggage,” she wrote. (To find it, slide through the car types at the bottom of the screen to the Assist button.)
Order rides for other people (paid by you): Enter your friend’s location as the pickup address, and contact the driver to let him know that you’re not the passenger. That’s handy, wrote Madeline Carter Gooding, for “friends late at night in sticky situations, or family coming in from the airport.”
Make multiple stops: In the app, the + button next to the address box lets you add a second destination, a third, and so on.
Schedule a ride: You can order a pickup in advance, thereby setting it and forgetting it. In the Uber app, the Scheduled Rides button is next to the “Where to?” box. In the Lyft app, after entering your destination, tap Schedule below the list of car types.
Event rides: If you’re hosting a gathering (wedding or corporate event, say), you can prepay your guests’ rides home. You get a code, which you supply to them; it’s valid only during the time slots, within the geographical boundaries, and up to dollar limits you establish. The company refunds to you any amount that wasn’t used up. Here are the details for Lyft and Uber.
As it turns out, then, the ingredients for getting more out of ridesharing are common sense, caution, and courtesy. And what do you know? Those are the same principles that should guide us through every social interaction, inside cars or out.