Stockbrokers in suits, drunken revellers and benevolent tourists. Brenwin Naidu meets them all while moonlighting
Uber is now part of the universal lexicon as a verb and an adjective. The birth of the platform has altered the way we view and use public transport. Arguably there is an element of glamour (and maybe a hint of elitism) to whipping out your smartphone and summoning your very own chauffeur. Not long ago the company announced a mandate to create 15 000 new jobs in South Africa by 2020.
Recent widespread clashes between operators on the platform and traditional metered taxi providers may have presented a slight setback. But given the growing rate of users and vocal support from the relevant government departments, the Uber revolution looks poised to continue. As a service to those considering a career as an Uber operator and a glimpse into the psyche of users, I decided to sign up as a provider on the platform.
Admittedly I may have been carried away with my own fantasies inspired by films like The Transporter and The Last Run. After all, I was a driver, smartly dressed and solemn in disposition, with the sole objective of ensuring my riders arrived safely and timeously at their destinations. So please have some consideration for the unavoidable embellishing that many storytellers succumb to. But most of what follows actually happened.
Coincidentally, a BMW starred in this feature as it had done in those above-mentioned movies. While not as exotic as a 1956 503 Cabriolet or as sinister as a 1995 735i, the 3-Series is a popular chariot for Uber Black peddlers. Our 320i was appropriately equipped for the task. It wore the optional Luxury Line package; replete with smarter alloys, sumptuous Veneto beige upholstery and fine wood trim. Presidential-specification window blinds (side and rear) ensured greater privacy. Before I could open my door for business, I had to undergo an abridged version of the Uber driver training syllabus. See the sidebar for the full scope of requirements and details.
This also involved tutelage from Taryn Morris, operations and logistics manager at Uber South Africa. She imparted helpful tips. Bottled water and breath mints for passengers are a thoughtful touch. Being perceptive is essential: some clients may want to chat, others prefer to be driven in silence. Contentious subjects are to be totally avoided: stuff like marriage, religion and the attendance figures of ANC manifesto launches.
With the legalities handled and excerpts from the Uber operator handbook seared on my memory, I reported for duty at 8am on a Wednesday. A great part of the trade involves patience as well as the foresight (and luck) to capitalise on peak travel times in the right areas. With my status set to Online, I looped around Johannesburg. Noon came and I had not completed a single journey. Just as I was starting to slink into disillusion, it happened. The iPhone chimed so satisfyingly with promise. I accepted the trip and went to fetch my first ever rider. Even better — this was going to be an airport run.
I recalled my training: confirm the name of your passenger politely, open their door and assist with luggage. Rider One as she became affectionately known, was suitably impressed by the classy hues donned by our BMW. Dutifully I asked whether the radio station and climate control settings were to her preferences. Some leisurely kilometres later we arrived at OR Tambo International Airport. After bidding adieu and clicking the Complete Trip tab on my Uber driver app, I felt pretty warm and fuzzy about my role in the machinations of dependable transport. Interestingly, drivers are also required to rate their passengers.
I gave Rider One five out of five stars. You never forget the first. Business was slow after this, with only one other rider before I knocked off at 7pm — a not-so-chatty executive who needed a shuttle from the JSE in Sandton. The following day would see me cash in on the South African practice of imbibing too much liquor on the penultimate day of the working week. Yeah … it was Phuza Thursday and I was ready to serve responsible drinkers at the popular hotspot that is 4th Avenue in Parkhurst.
The first guy I ferried was a Brazilian chap whose colleague summoned my services on his behalf. If language is a barrier, alcohol is the electric fence atop the wall. Our subjects of discussion ranged, in improvisational Brazinglish, from the mining industry to tobacco. Luckily the universal gesture of pointing with an index finger alerted me to his desire to stop at a garage on the way, for a pack of smokes. I ferried a few more inebriates that night and it left me pretty thankful that a platform like Uber exists.
It really doubles up as a public service in addition to being an enterprise. After phuza patrol I decided to take a break and resumed on a sober Sunday, hoping to squeeze in a few more trips before my profile on the platform expired that night. One of my passengers that day included the child of a pretty well-known commentator. And appropriately, my stint concluded with another airport run.
On this occasion it was an elderly British couple who had visited our country for the first time. National pride kicked in and I happily boasted about our numerous positives, dispelling some misconceptions. They were so pleased by my brief educational speech that I was offered a R300 tip (about £5) but had to decline, as it is against Uber policy. Which brings us back to the crux of why the service has been so successful: it is well-regulated, professional and efficient. Viva Uber!
There are many requirements to becoming an Uber operator, among them are:
A vehicle (obviously) — car categories vary, visit their website for more details
Valid South African PrDP licence
Comprehensive commercial insurance policy
Operating Card from the Department of Licensing
DEKRA Inspection report certifying your vehicle
Operating License from the Department of Transport
See https://drive.uber.com/ for a more detailed list