Your Private Driver: Where to?

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Tuesday after the live show, right here on

Last week’s blog talked a little about driver behaviors that negatively impact the Uber-Lyft experience. While I don’t necessarily condone them, there are reasons for them. I want to go into detail into one of those reasons since it seems to be one of the biggest sources of issues, especially since the average passenger is pretty misinformed about it.

Uber and Lyft drivers don’t have any idea where you’re going before you get in the car. We actually get a pretty small amount of information (that we have to process in about 15 seconds) before deciding whether or not to accept a trip. We get your pickup address, your rating, and a poor estimate of how long it’ll take to get to your pickup address. As for where you’re going? Well, it could be across the street or across the state, we really have no idea.

What the driver sees during a typical Uber pickup request
What the driver sees during a typical Uber pickup request

So if that information is not given to the drivers, why do you have to enter your destination in the app? For starters it’s how you get a fare quote. For UberPOOL and Lyft Line rides it’s required for route matching. For other rides, it’s used for assigning rides to otherwise occupied drivers in busy areas; a driver could be given a pickup at a hotel while they’re en route to drop off another passenger at that same hotel. Finally, it just makes your driver’s job easier since to be frank, most of you are not good at giving directions.

The primary reason for not giving drivers destination info is presumably to prevent them from screening trip requests instead of accepting them. In some markets a full-time driver may not want to waste time with a short trip to the corner store, or a driver trying to make a few dollars on their lunch hour may not want to take a trip all the way into the suburbs. This level of screening can throw off the system that rideshare companies try to create where someone who needs a ride is always matched with the closest available driver.

Unfortunately this system forces drivers into a lottery where they don’t know if the next time they tap on the screen to accept a trip, they’re going to make money or potentially lose it. This system falls apart the most at airports, where drivers who have to wait in a queue for potentially hours only to be randomly stuck with a trip that’s only going to a nearby hotel instead of one going to a residence on the other side of the metro area. Drivers have developed their own strategies to adjust the odds of this lottery in their favor (like calling to confirm a destination and making up some excuse like “technical difficulties” if it’s not far enough), and none of them benefit the passenger. An unlucky rider who only wants a short trip from the airport may find that it’s faster to walk if enough drivers flake out.

Waiting my turn...
Waiting my turn…

There’s also the issue of “banned” destinations; some airports or other restricted locations don’t allow Uber or Lyft business on their premises either without a proper permit or at all. A trip request to the airport without a permit can result in steep fines for drivers, and a driver can’t avoid that risk without first driving up to a passenger’s location and seeing them come out with their luggage.

Like I said earlier, most passengers have no idea that this is how the system works, and they all seem to be in favor of letting drivers know their destination before they show up instead of just springing it on them as a surprise. Despite the potential drawbacks, it would seem that riders at this point would prefer to know that their driver is committed to a complete trip instead of making up excuses why they can’t do it.

Besides, it’s starting to become obvious that the current situation isn’t working. Why not try something new?

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!