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I don’t normally have to take Uber rides when I fly into London Heathrow as there’s a local car service on which I rely. Last week things were a little different – my usual service was unavailable so I decided to see what Uber was like when I flew in to the UK….I wish I hadn’t.
Uber temporarily lost its license to operate in London back in September last year but, following an appeals process, a new license was granted last month as the company serves out a 15 month probation period.
Apparently no one has told the drivers that they need to behave.
On Thursday last week, after landing at Heathrow Terminal 3, I headed up to the 3rd level in the terminal’s short-term parking structure (the Uber pick-up point) from where I requested an Uber.
My ride request was quickly assigned but, as I had requested a basic UberX, I was surprised to see that a Mercedes E-Class had chosen to pick up my ride – the driver’s name was “Levent“.
Within a minute of my ride being assigned my phone rang and it was the driver on the line wanting to know where he would be taking me.
Uber specifically doesn’t let drivers know a customer’s destination before a pick-up has been confirmed to prevent drivers cherry-picking their jobs…so I declined to give the driver the answer he wanted.
I pointed out that I was at the pre-assigned pick-up point and that the app would tell him my destination when he picked me up.
I hung up the phone and waited.
Moments later my ride was cancelled and I was assigned a new driver – this time it was a BMW 3 series with an Uber driver called “Bright“.
Within a minute of my ride being assigned my phone rang again and after confirming that I wasn’t traveling with a lot of luggage “Bright” asked me for my destination.
I gave him the same response as I gave the first driver and said I’d see him at the T3 pick-up point.
Two minutes later “Bright” still hadn’t moved from what I presume is a holding lot near Heathrow….
…and moments later my ride was cancelled again.
The 3rd driver assigned to pick me up was called “Muuse” and he was driving a VW Sharan:
When my phone rang for a third time I knew what was coming and, once again, I refused to give the driver my destination when pressed.
Anyone care to guess what happened next? 🙂
Yes! My ride was cancelled again! A Hat-trick!
The 4th driver assigned to me was Khalid Khalil driving a Toyota Prius…..
…and, true to form, he called me and asked for my destination.
For the 4th time I refused and asked him to pick me up and be given the information as and when Uber intended him to have it.
After I hung up the phone I waited to see what would happen.
I wasn’t feeling confident.
For a while Khalid’s car didn’t move on the Uber app map so I was expecting to get yet another ride cancellation message…but none came.
Soon the car started moving on the map and 10 minutes later I was finally being picked up.
In just 10 minutes 4 drivers called me up to find out what my destination was (in breach of Uber rules) and 3 of them cancelled my ride when I refused to answer their question.
One driver (“Bright”) waited 5 minutes before canceling my ride and I suspect that was because he wanted me to be the one to cancel – that way he’d get a cancellation fee for doing absolutely nothing.
The reason why Uber’s app doesn’t let drivers know a customer’s destination is to prevent issues like the one you get with London taxi drivers (the black cabs) at the end of a night – if you want to be driven anywhere other than in the direction the cab driver wants to go the driver will refuse to take you as a fare – but it looks as if Uber drivers are taking matters into their own hands to circumvent the system.
I’ve had issues with Uber in LA quite a few times in the past but this was the first time I’ve had drivers playing annoying games in the UK.
There was a time when Uber was a really good idea and where the drivers were a refreshing change from the legacy taxi companies we’ve all been putting up with for years….but I’m starting to think those days are over.
We’ve reached a point where Uber drivers expect tips regardless of the service they provide (I won’t tip), where people are clearly not rating their drivers accurately, and where the CEO of Uber doesn’t even seem to know how his company’s app works.
When you stop and think about it there’s something quite Orwellian about Uber – it rose up to take on the “evil” legacy taxi companies but, as time passes, it appears to be taking on all the traits that made us dislike the legacy taxi companies and taxi drivers in the first place.