Image by the author.

I wanted to do some hands-on learning about ride hailing as well as make some extra money, so two months ago, I started using our family minivan to drive for Uber. Recently, I added Lyft. The trips I’ve driven have gone best when passengers make it easy to find them and ask for pickup at a location that makes sense given the time and where they’re heading, and when they order the right kind of car and look out for their own safety.

I only have 200 trips under my belt, but I think I have the basics down. I also actively read blogs by experienced drivers and follow a bunch of driver chat rooms and social media posts.

Something I’ve noticed is that there are a good amount of trips that have preventable delays that don’t benefit anyone and, worse yet, may add traffic to congested areas. With a bit more planning and communication on everyone’s part, I think we could speed trips for passengers while giving drivers the chance to move onto other revenue producing trips and miles. Who wouldn’t want that?

These ideas can save you a few minutes as a passenger and probably eliminate most of the speedbumps. I do want to note: if you need or want door to door pickup because of weather, luggage, limited mobility or just because, that’s perfectly fine, too. After all, the driver is working for the passenger.

Here’s my advice:

1. Think small… small buildings, that is

When you use the ride hailing app, it gives drivers a street address and point on the map based on what the passenger entered. Buildings like the Convention Center, Verizon Center, many hotels and apartment buildings, the National Mall, museums, monuments, and parks are a city block long or even multiple blocks. Google Maps and Waze, which lots of drivers use to supplement the app, sometimes picks the wrong side of the building, like when I approached a hotel on K Street when the passenger waited on Pennsylvania Avenue.

If you can find and walk to nearby building that’s smaller from where you hail your ride, you’ve created a small target with a precise address where the driver can find you even with crowds, at night, or in traffic.

2. As a solid second choice, pick an intersection as your pickup location

Instead of a large building or a city block without addresses, use a nearby intersection. The upside of doing this is that the driver isn’t searching the length of a city block for you.

If you go the intersection route, consider calling the driver to share exactly where you are. A driver who approaches the wrong corner and misses you could have to go around one or sometimes a few traffic-choked blocks if they miss you the first time.

I’ve had to circle some of the larger hotels, especially when I didn’t know which entrance the passenger was using or the building faced two or more streets. An intersection might have worked better.

3. Avoid crowds and congestion

If you order a ride at 2:30 am on a Friday night near 14th and U Streets NW, your driver will probably need to navigate two or three blocks of heavy congestion to get to you; then they’ll need to do it again to get your trip started. To avoid this, walk a couple blocks, ideally in the direction you’ll be traveling in, and order your ride where the driver and you can stay out of the traffic and crowds.

Your driver doesn’t want to get caught in a traffic standstill in the Union Station pickup line if you instead can meet a block away on Massachusetts Avenue. I’ve saved passengers 15 minutes this way, but am also happy to pick them up at the front.

If you walk to a less crowded corner like this one, your ride may go a lot more smoothly.  Image by Ted Eytan licensed under Creative Commons.

4. Go with the flow of traffic when you can

Assuming you can move around before you order a ride, pick a side of the street or even a different street moving in the same direction of your trip. “U Turns” aren’t always practical, safe or legal. And, sometimes, a driver can end up stuck in a series of one-way streets going in the wrong direction. That’s not fun anytime, especially if you’re stuck in traffic.

A well-planned trip that starts in the right direction can be faster and potentially cheaper. It’s been awkward when I finally get turned the right way for a pickup on congested Connecticut Avenue on a Saturday night and then we’re at a standstill in the wrong direction for the ride.

5. Be ready

Each ride hailing service has rules regarding how long drivers have to wait before cancelling. Drivers don’t want to be rule enforcers; they want to get you in the car and on the road. Especially during peak demand times, be ready to hop in. The next passenger who needs a ride will also benefit. I’ve had passengers call me two or three times with various reasons for their delay. I try to accommodate riders, but I also want to make money for my time.

6. Over communicate the tough places

If you are somewhere outside a sports venue, supermarket, mall, park or other large place, call your driver after you order your ride. If you already know it’s going to be hard to find you, share that with the driver before they start their approach.

Once, two students called me to say exactly where they were in the Safeway parking lot, which made it easy for me to pull right up to where they had several shopping bags to load.

7. Order big if you need big

If you’re lugging a TV or piles of luggage, or you have more than four passengers, order a larger vehicle (Lyft Plus or Uber XL). Drivers want to fit everything and everybody into their vehicle safely and without breaking the car. They also want to be fairly compensated for trips requiring a larger car. It wastes everyone’s time if a driver with a regular car arrives and asks you to cancel because you really needed a bigger car.

8. Don’t share if you can’t or won’t

Passengers can generally ask a driver to take a preferred route or stop along the way for trips that aren’t designed for sharing. But, if you pick a trip that can be shared like UberPool or Lyft Line, the company can assign other passengers to the trip at any point, even taking you a bit out of the way for pickup or drop off. Also, you can’t ask to stop along the way or pick the route (like one passenger who wanted me to take lots of side streets as a short cut); the company tells the driver where to go to potentially pick up passengers along the way. If that doesn’t work for you, pick a regular Lyft or UberX.

9. Hug the sidewalk side

Even when you have a full car, have everyone jump in and out on the sidewalk side. In busy areas or around fast moving cars, it’s tough for drivers to dodge people getting out on the street side. Drivers want to keep you safe and also can better see that you’re off the road when you all hop out on the sidewalk side. And don’t forget to look for bicyclists when you open the door.

Ride hailing is a great way to get around, but there are some key pieces to the trip that can cause delays and difficulty. Just like having your fare card ready if you’re about to take Metrorail, you can do things during your ride hailing trip to save you time and even some money.

Your driver will appreciate keeping things moving, and you’ll add a few minutes to spend at your destination instead of on the road.

Tagged: ride hailing

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 30 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve.