Anniston resident Jeff Crow became interested in being an Uber driver after hearing a friend talk about it. “I asked him some questions, then went to research it,” Jeff said. “It’s a bit of a process to apply.”
A potential driver — or rather “partner,” as the company prefers drivers to be called — needs a driver’s license, of course, and proof of insurance before being interviewed. The designated vehicle must undergo a 20-point inspection, inside and out, with a written report submitted to Uber. The process must be repeated every year.
After he met all of Uber’s requirements, Jeff became authorized to work anywhere in the state of Alabama. If he wanted to venture to a city over the state line, say to Atlanta or Chattanooga, he’d have to go through the entire inspection process again to match those state’s requirements.
No need for that, though, as Jeff has enough to keep him busy here locally. He has worked in Birmingham a few times, but needs the help of a GPS to transport passengers where they want to go. He prefers the lay of the land right here in Calhoun County, as he’s familiar with all the shortcuts on how to get from one place to another. He doesn’t know the destination, however, until he picks up his fare. “It could be around the block or all the way to Mobile,” he said.
Thus far, the shortest ride he’s ever provided was taking a passenger from an Oxford hotel to a restaurant. The longest, from one end of the county to the other.
By day, Jeff works as a tattoo artist. “Been doing that, and piercings, for 20 years,” he said. During work time, he is considered offline with Uber, but in the evenings, he switches to online status, receiving several “pings” a week. That’s what it’s called when a customer calls for an Uber.
Modern technology being what it is allows Uber to determine the location of all their partners. The one closest to the customer is pinged first. If that partner declines, it goes to the next nearest driver. If a partner declines too many pings, they’ll be penalized, but that’s not an issue for Jeff. He has yet to decline one.
Once a passenger is in his vehicle, Jeff presses the start button on his phone’s Uber app. “At that point, the meter is running,” he said, but he doesn’t have to handle collecting payment. Uber has the customer’s credit card information and takes care of that part. They then transfer his pay, as well as any tips, to his account.
Uber will provide a route map to the passenger’s destination, but if Jeff knows a quicker way to go, he’s allowed to take it. “Being a shorter ride, it saves the passenger money,” he said. Saving his riders money is not the only way Jeff aims for good customer service. “I keep bottles of water on hand and have every kind of music ready with Spotify.”
How much conversation takes place between partner and passenger? “I break the ice with a question or two and let them take it from there,” Jeff said. “Some want to chat and I’m good with that, but if they don’t, I’m good with that, too.”
Customer satisfaction is important to an Uber partner since they are rated at the end of the ride. It’s a two-way street, though, as the passengers are rated, too. Once customers exit the vehicle, Jeff rates them on a scale of 1 to 5 (one being worst, five best). After doing so, the customers then rate him.
Jeff has worked hard to maintain a 5-star rating, but that all changed one night when an extremely inebriated passenger got in his car. “It was a bad situation,” Jeff said, shaking his head at the memory. “Very hostile.” As soon as the intoxicated rider stepped out, Jeff rated him with one star. The passenger did the same for Jeff, which he was expecting. It caused his 5-star rating to drop to 1.8, which he was not expecting. It took him several weeks to build back up and, at the time of this writing, he stands at 4.83.
Jeff had the option to block that particular passenger from ever pinging him again, which he did, but as a rule, he doesn’t check passenger’s ratings. “I don’t pay attention to it,” he admitted. “But I probably should.”
Overall, Jeff enjoys the Uber life and considers it a good source of supplemental income with an added bonus. “I get to meet new and interesting people every day,” he said.
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.