I'm a driver for Uber and Lyft — here are the 10 biggest mistakes I see passengers make

Clarke Bowman Uber Driver

  • Uber and Lyft users frequently make mistakes that cost them both money and time.
  • I know this firsthand — I’ve been driving for both companies for almost a year, and I see riders do things that hurt themselves in the long run.
  • Some of the biggest mistakes passengers make include failing to price-check both apps before requesting a ride, ordering the wrong type of vehicle, and leaving a mess that requires a big cleaning fee.
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My name is Clarke, and I have been a part-time Uber and Lyft driver in South Florida for almost a year.

In that busy time, I have maintained an almost perfect 4.99 rating. I’ve given rides to hundreds of different people from all over the world.

Since nervously giving my first ride, I have learned a ton of things about this booming ride-hailing industry. A lot of what I have learned benefits drivers, but I have also learned some things that could benefit passengers.

Passengers make a lot of mistakes that cost them both time and money, and I would imagine that most don’t even realize they’re making them.

Here are 10 of the biggest mistakes that Uber and Lyft passengers make that cost them.

SEE ALSO: I drive for Uber and Lyft — here’s what your driver thinks about you based on your rating

DON’T MISS: I’m a driver for Uber and Lyft — here are 8 ways I can tell someone is going to be a bad passenger within 5 seconds

Requesting a carpool over a regular ride.

The carpool features of Uber and Lyft were designed for multiple passengers to share a ride from near point A to point B.

The ironic thing, though, is that it’s actually best for the passenger if you don’t share a ride with anyone else, unless you want to waste a ton of your precious time.

When a passenger requests a ride, they have a few options: They can take a regular car for up to four people, an XL ride for up to six people, or a shared ride, where one or two passengers per request can share a ride with other users. Both companies offer co-riding services: UberPool and Lyft Shared.

Pool and Shared are generally the cheapest options, usually by a couple of dollars. There may be other options based on different markets (like luxury cars, cars with extra legroom and headroom, cars with car seats, cars that allow pets, and cars with a rack for your ski equipment), but most markets simply offer a regular ride, an XL ride, and a carpool ride.

The $2 to $4 in savings on the majority of shared UberPool or Lyft Shared rides is 100% not worth it, especially if your drop-off is far. When you’re in a Pool or Shared ride, the algorithm that calculates who to pick up and drop off is based almost strictly on distance. If you’re the first in, you are very likely to be the last out.

For example, let’s say you were going to a location 10 miles away and it takes an average of 30 minutes to drive there. You are the first passenger. The car you’re in can hold up to three other people at a time. You may pick up and drop off more than three other people before you’re dropped off yourself, and if their destinations are closer than yours, they’ll be getting dropped off first, even if it takes you away from your destination. You may be dropped off more than an hour later on what “should” be a 30-minute ride.

Your time is worth more than a savings of $2 on a ride. In my experience, your total travel time may take up to four or five times as long in a shared ride, with strangers you know nothing about, all for a measly couple of dollars.

Not price-checking both Uber and Lyft before requesting a ride.

If a product were $10 cheaper at one store over another store — the exact same product with the exact same service — would you buy that product from the more expensive store? Probably not.

Uber and Lyft are almost the exact same products. Surprisingly, a lot of passengers do not check prices between the two.

Experienced users know that the companies run promotions from time to time to compete with each other.

I am the same great 4.99-rated driver, offering the same great service and safe driving in the same clean Prius, whether I’m on an Uber ride or a Lyft ride.

One company does not have better drivers or better vehicles than the other. The drivers and vehicles are exactly the same, and a lot of drivers, like me, drive for both.

Why wouldn’t you, as a consumer, go with the cheaper option?

If you have only one of the apps, you are limiting your options as a passenger, and you have probably overpaid for a ride at least once.

A common misunderstanding among passengers is that if the ride is much cheaper, then the driver is getting paid much less. This is not true. Drivers always make at least a base rate, and possibly a little more depending on bonuses. If a normal $20 ride is suddenly $10, the driver’s pay is still the same regardless of what the passenger pays — it’s the company that’s making less money.

Let me give you an example. The Fort Lauderdale Airport is 18 miles from my house, or about a 32-minute drive. As I’m writing this, Lyft has a promotion in my area of “75% off, up to $10,” and the quote for a regular ride to Terminal 1 is very cheap for me, at $12.61. Uber is not offering any promotions at the moment for me, and the same ride to the airport is $27.95.

When you add up my per-mile rate for my area, my hourly rate, and my base rate for the ride, I’m making $16 for that Lyft trip — the same I’d be making if there weren’t a promotion.

Take advantage of these promotions when they’re available. Price-check your rides and, if possible, go with the cheaper option.

Traveling at the busiest times possible.

Most of us learned the basic economic principles of supply and demand in school. If the demand is greater than the supply, the price will likely go up.

When too many passengers request a ride in a similar area and there are not enough drivers, Uber and Lyft will “surge” an area to entice drivers to come to that busy area with a monetary bonus. (In my experience, Uber gives better surges and gives them much more often than Lyft.) It’s a great idea to meet demand.

More drivers means quicker pickups and shorter wait times, which is great for everyone — but not your wallet.

How much does a surge affect the price? It varies wildly, depending on how many people are requesting a ride and how many drivers there are. It can be a very small amount, where a driver receives only an extra $1.25, but I have also seen surges as high as an extra $30 at the airport, and the passenger is the one who pays for the price markup. Surge pricing can change minute to minute.

If you are traveling at the absolute busiest times, like during peak rush hour or a prime “going out” time on a holiday (New Year’s Eve at 7 p.m., for example), it is very likely you will find yourself paying high surge prices when a half-hour before or after the peak time might have had normal ride prices.

If you know you will be using Uber or Lyft for some event you know will be very busy — like a concert — if you can, hang around with some friends for 30 minutes or so until the crowd dissipates, and then request a ride. It will likely be much cheaper.

If you are out drinking with friends until late at night, and you know the bars have to close at 2 a.m., leave a little early and request a ride at 1:30. Don’t request a ride minutes after closing time, when everyone is requesting a ride at once, creating peak surge pricing.

It’s not always possible depending on your situation, but if you can, try to change your plans to travel at less busy times to save yourself some money.

Not checking your pickup location in the app, or having a bad pickup location.

I don’t know about you, but I hate the feeling of being nickel-and-dimed with little fees.

But when I’m driving and someone I’m picking up doesn’t show up within five minutes, I’m sorry, but I drove all the way here and spent my valuable time and you didn’t show up — I’m marking you as a no-show and collecting the $5 cancellation fee.

The vast majority of passengers are waiting at the curb for me when I arrive. I would imagine that these passengers who never showed up either put in the wrong pickup address or had a pickup location in a spot I was unable to stop at.

When you request a ride, you need to make sure your pickup location is correct. The apps are usually pretty good about finding where you are, but sometimes — especially if you’re inside a building where cell service may be spotty — the apps may put your pickup location on the wrong side of the building or on another street entirely. You can adjust the little pickup pin by sliding it around.

You have two minutes after you request a ride to adjust your pickup spot or cancel the ride before you are charged a cancellation fee. If you cancel the ride after two minutes, or if your driver cancels the ride after they arrive and wait for five minutes, you will be charged a cancellation fee.

Also, be conscious of where your driver should pick you up. Some cities are cracking down on where drivers can and cannot stop in busy places, like this area in Boston — no longer can we just turn on the hazard lights in the middle of a downtown street and block traffic as you and your drunk friends stumble in.

Make sure your pickup isn’t in a place where a driver probably can’t stop. Adjust the pickup spot to a side street where a car could easily stop for a few moments. If your city, like mine, has a designated area for ride-hailing drop-offs and pickups, usually on the busiest downtown streets, head there.

If your pickup location is very hard to reach — certain gated communities, large hotels with multiple entrances, a neighborhood with seemingly random construction and road closures — take the time to call or text your driver the best way to pick you up. I have had a few instances where there was simply no way for me to drive to the passenger, I could not find a way in, and I had to cancel the ride. (The passenger is not charged a fee in this situation.)

Sure, it doesn’t cost the passenger money here, but it does cost them their time, as they likely waited very long for a ride.

Not ordering the right type of ride you need.

I drive for Uber and Lyft to make extra money, and if I can’t carry out a ride, I am wasting time and missing out on money.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I arrive at a pickup spot only to find out I can’t actually give the ride that was requested. This is usually because there are too many people.

At least once a week there is a group of five or more people trying to squeeze into my tiny Prius.

“We can fit!” they say.

“I’m sorry, but my Prius doesn’t qualify for the clown-car option.”

OK, I have never actually said that, but I have been tempted to.

My car qualifies only for regular UberX and Lyft rides, meaning I can take up to four people. To make that even clearer: All four people, including children, need their own seat with their own seatbelt.

If I drive with more than four people, I’m violating Uber’s and Lyft’s terms of service, and I probably also won’t be covered under insurance in the event of an accident.

UberXL, according to Uber’s website, is for “when you’ve got a group, a lot of luggage, or just the desire to spread out a bit,” and it “fits your group of 6 riders (or extra luggage) comfortably.” Lyft says pretty much the same thing about its XL option.

If you have more than four people in your group, you need to order an XL ride. If you have very large luggage that you know won’t fit in a normal-sized vehicle, you should also order an XL ride. In one Facebook group for Uber drivers, a driver said he received an Uber request at a Walmart on Black Friday and was shocked when a passenger tried to fit a 75-inch TV in their little Toyota Corolla.

Not bringing car seats for your children.

Another way passengers try to skirt the rules — knowingly or unknowingly — is by not providing a car seat for their young children.

Children need their own car seat if they require one. The law is a little fuzzy on exactly which child needs what, but basically, if a child is under 3 years old, they need a car seat.

How does this cost passengers? It costs them their time and their money. Because not only did they waste five or 10 minutes waiting for me to arrive, but now they’re going to waste even more time as they wait for their next ride. They will also likely be charged a $5 cancellation fee. And if they tried to enter my vehicle with a child who doesn’t have a car seat, I will absolutely report their account to Uber or Lyft, and their account may be deactivated for endangering their child.

Order the right type of ride for what you need, and bring car seats for your children to avoid cancellation fees, long waits, and the risk of account deactivation.

Not checking for all your items before leaving the vehicle.

People think that Uber and Lyft drivers are required to return lost items, no matter what.

Let’s clear up something really quick right now. Per Uber’s policy about lost items:

“Drivers are independent contractors. Neither Uber nor drivers are responsible for the items left in a vehicle after a trip ends. We’re here to help, but cannot guarantee that a driver has your item or can deliver it to you.”

Lyft has the same policy about items left behind.

If you forget an item in an Uber or Lyft and a driver does return your item, you will likely be charged a $15 lost-item fee. It is also very possible that the driver doesn’t answer or doesn’t have your item, and you’ll never see it again.

If you spend a few minutes perusing Uber and Lyft’s Twitter and Facebook pages, you will see that items left behind are very common.

When I first started driving, a college student forgot their new iPhone XS Max in my back seat. I noticed it, drove back a few miles, went into the bar they were at, found them, and handed them back their expensive phone. They thanked me profusely and told me they would leave me a huge tip in the app and a glowing review on my account. I thought about sending a lost-item fee, but they said they would tip me, and I trusted them, so I never sent in the lost-item report.

A couple of days later, when it was too late for me to charge a fee, I still had not received any tip or glowing review. The passenger lied to me.

Now when someone leaves something, I return it to them — but before I do, I take a picture of it on my back seat for documentation. Then I’ll return it and send in a request for a lost-item fee. I have since returned two backpacks, a wallet, another phone, and a thick folder with what looked like important documents.

I am paid $15 each time for returning lost items.

I’m an honest person, and I would never dare keep someone else’s belongings, but I am not every other driver on the road. If you read through enough Twitter and Facebook posts about lost items in Ubers and Lyfts, you are guaranteed to read a couple of horror stories from people who forgot their phones, wallets, or laptops about the driver acknowledging the lost item but demanding a large sum of money, like a ransom, to return the item.

Other times the drivers are like ghosts, never to be heard from again. Unfortunately, Uber or Lyft cannot force drivers to respond.

However, most drivers aren’t trying to scam or steal from anyone. It is also very possible that you forgot your item in the back seat, the driver never noticed it (especially if it’s dark out), the driver then picked up a new passenger, that passenger found it, and then that person decided to keep the item for themselves.

Before you leave the car, do a quick check: phone, wallet, keys, bag. Save yourself the hassle of a lost item and the risk of a $15 fee, or the possibility of never seeing your item again.

Making a mess and thus getting charged a cleaning fee.

It’s pretty impressive how much of a mess some passengers can create on such a short ride.

It doesn’t happen much, but drivers know that it happens enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth. The passenger leaves, you check the back seat, and there is a mess that requires cleaning.

Now we, the drivers, have to stop accepting rides momentarily and take unpaid time out of our day to clean up whatever mess was left behind.

Depending on the severity of the mess, the driver can even photograph and document the incident to send to Uber or Lyft and charge the passenger a cleaning fee that is paid 100% to the driver.

Any small interior mess that requires vacuuming or using chemicals — like a bunch of sand or a spilled coffee — is a $20 fee.

A moderate mess on the exterior can result in a $40 fee.

A huge spill on the hard-to-clean interior, or a mess involving minor body fluids, can result in a charge of up to $80.

A huge, hard-to-clean mess involving air vents or major body fluids, like vomit, on the interior or exterior is a $150 fee.

Thankfully, I have never experienced anything more than minor spills and crumbs, but I have charged a cleaning fee a couple of times for messes that warranted it.

Before you order your extremely drunk or passed-out friend a ride home for the night, make sure they won’t throw up on the ride, or you may find a huge, irreversible cleaning fee on your credit card the next morning.

Even leaving behind trash like a soda bottle or gum wrappers on the seats may upset your driver. While these things won’t warrant a cleaning fee, the driver may leave you a one-star review for treating their car like a trash can — which brings us right to our next topic.

Doing things that negatively affect your passenger rating.

Just as drivers have ratings, passengers have ratings. You can see your passenger rating in the Uber app but not in the Lyft app.

I have written about what your passenger rating means, but here’s the short version: Anything above a 4.8 is great. If you have below a 4.8, Lyft wants you “to consider ways to improve it.” Anything below 4.7 is almost universally considered a bad rating. Below 4.6 is very bad. And 4.5 is awful.

Drivers are considered independent contractors, meaning they can accept or reject as many rides as they like without consequence.

If your rating is below a 4.65, you can almost guarantee that I will not accept your ride request. Many drivers won’t accept any passengers with ratings below a 4.8 or 4.9, especially late at night when the drunk crowd comes out.

Having a low rating means drivers are more likely to reject your ride request, which costs you time. You will likely be waiting a very long time for a driver to accept your ride, especially if you are leaving something like a concert or sporting event where hundreds of other passengers are all requesting rides at once. A driver isn’t going to accept your low rating when they can decline your request and immediately receive dozens of others with highly rated passengers.

I remember when I first started driving, I was about No. 65 in the waiting-lot queue at the Fort Lauderdale airport, meaning there were 60-ish other drivers ahead of me waiting for a ride. A ride request came in. I was shocked. How could a ride request come in when there are 60-plus other drivers in the queue? The request was for a shared ride from a passenger with a 4.54 rating. I declined.

For me to receive this ride request meant that more than 60 other drivers all declined that ride before it was offered to me.

There are lots of reasons a driver might give a passenger a bad rating: They made a mess, they have extremely bad hygiene, they’re rude, they’re loud, they’re obnoxiously drunk, they’re talking about politics, they’re not respecting personal boundaries, or they’re even making a driver extremely uncomfortable by sitting in the front seat and staring at them without saying a word (yes, I was very creeped out by that passenger).

Maintain a good rating to receive quicker rides — otherwise you might be wasting a lot of your time waiting on a driver.

Not contacting Uber and Lyft support about bad drivers, and not rating good drivers fairly.

The great thing about a driver rating system is that it should, in theory, keep people honest and accountable. Bad drivers should receive bad ratings, and good drivers should receive good ratings.

When it is not used properly or is abused, the whole rating system might as well go into the trash can.

Passengers deserve rides in clean, safe, well-maintained vehicles driven by great, friendly drivers at safe speeds. That is my goal for every ride, and it should be the goal of every driver.

More than 3 million Uber trips take place in the US every day, and the company said in a safety report that 99.9% of rides end without any reports of safety-related incidents. But I have heard absolute horror stories from both friends and passengers in that 0.1%, and I’ve even experienced bad rides as a passenger myself.

A couple of years ago, I was in an Uber ride where the driver was driving with the phone navigation in her lap. She did not have a dash mount for her phone. She was literally looking down for half of the ride, as she was clearly in an area she did not know. She was driving erratically, I did not feel safe, and I was slamming the invisible brake the whole ride.

When we were about a minute away from our destination, she was coming up to a red light, except she was looking down at her phone and still accelerating, with no signs of slowing down. I yelled “Look out!” and she slammed on her brakes so hard that the tires squealed and we were inches from crashing into the back of the car ahead of us. My heart was pounding. We did not leave her a good review.

Multiple passengers have told me they have had drivers who were texting one-handed while driving. A friend told me a guy picked him up from the airport and his speed never dipped below 90 mph on the highway. One guy told me his driver was cursing nonstop about the traffic and had extreme road rage. A woman once told me a male driver picked her up late at night and kept making comments about how beautiful she was and asking if anyone was home as he was dropping her off at her house.

One woman told me an absolutely horrifying story. She said that years ago, one driver said he was asked by Uber to conduct a survey after the ride for a $25 Uber gift card, if she would just write down her name and phone number on this sheet. She wrote down her information. She said that a few days later this guy found all her social-media accounts and a slew of other personal information and was texting her nonstop about how beautiful she was and how they should be together. She ended up blocking the guy everywhere she could to get rid of him.

I asked all these people: Did you give that driver a one-star review? Did you report them to Uber or Lyft? Almost all of them said no and had some reason: They didn’t feel like it, it would have taken too much time, they didn’t want to get the driver fired because they probably needed the money.

The girl who wrote her number on the paper for that “survey”? She never reported her driver to Uber. He could still be out there, and you know he has probably done that creepy survey trick on others. (Just for the record, Uber or Lyft will never ask drivers to conduct surveys; never give your personal information to any driver, no matter how convincing they may seem.)

Bad drivers need to be one-starred and reported. If you do not feel safe, report your driver. If your driver is doing something that is violating safety laws or community guidelines, report them! If you do not report them, they could be out there driving another passenger unsafely or hitting on someone else inappropriately. That bad driver is also taking away rides and money from thousands of other great drivers who drive safely and respect you, and they also give the brand a bad image.

The reviewing concept also goes both ways. If you leave a negative review or report a driver, Uber or Lyft may follow up with you and even refund your ride or offer you a free ride in the future as a gesture of goodwill.

Give your bad drivers bad ratings and get them off the platform. Rate good drivers honestly to keep them on the platform. We all want good drivers to drive us, so use the rating system properly!

Don’t make these mistakes, and it won’t cost you.

No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes.

The truth is that a lot of passengers make mistakes that cost them their time and money.

A lot of these penalties — such as cancellation fees, lost-item fees, and cleaning fees — can be avoided if passengers order rides when they’re ready, order the correct type of ride they need, don’t make a mess, and check everything before they leave.

A lot of passengers also receive bad reviews from drivers because of certain actions. These bad habits are easily correctable.

Rate your drivers honestly to make the platform better for everyone involved.

And on your next ride, thank your driver sincerely, as at least one of us is always around, 24/7, to help deliver you to your destination safely.



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