Until recently we had never called an Uber, but needing an urgent ride, with guidance from my son who regularly gets Ubers all over Lisbon, we downloaded the app, created an account, put in the travel details, chose the best price from the three options, tracked the driver and within fifteen minutes the chauffeur was at the gate. It was efficient and no cash changed hands as the app is linked to your credit card. The fees vary as they are based on supply and demand.
Now our friend Luis Hilário has become an Uber driver giving me the idea for the article!
Luis is half English and half Portuguese, like me, living half his life in both countries again like me! His son Vasco tells people his dad is Yorkshireguese!
Luis gave up his estate agent job initially to concentrate more on his music. He is the bass player in the renowned ‘New Orleans Jazz Band’ and Algarve’s new Gypsy Jazz band ‘Swing Guitars’ but he is thoroughly enjoying his new ‘day job’ because “I like driving and I enjoy meeting so many interesting people. It is never boring and I like the unpredictability of my day,” he told me.
Drivers have been around since ancient times when they were paid to transport people in ancient China or slaves were used by the Romans, however it was another Louis, Louis Renault, who invented the taxi meter in 1904.
Did you know that until 1997 when he died, Portuguese Augusto Macedo was the oldest taxi driver in the world? Working in Lisbon and Cascais he clocked over two million kms over seventy years, driving his first and only car bought in 1928, a Oldsmobile Cabriolet model XT303. He even has a Lisbon road named after him!
In 2009 the taxi world was shaken out of its monopoly when start-up company Uber Technologies, Inc was founded, in the USA, by Garrett Camp, Oscar Salazar and Travis Kalanick. Their company now operates in over ninety countries and has a market capital value of $96.51 billion making it the world’s 143th most valuable company.
As Uber became popular, taxi drivers were naturally upset at the competition and in June 2014 they went on strike across Europe, protesting about the unqualified and unlicensed drivers that were taking their fares. However the protests actually increased the worldwide app download by 850% due to all the ‘free’ publicity.
Uber drivers either partner with a company that owns a fleet of cars or use their own car and the Uber app connects the motorists to the users. The car owners are responsible for the licencing, insurance and driver training, therefore Uber claims to be an app and not a transport company. Despite various controversies and with some countries banning the service, Uber keeps expanding. They have taken over several high-profile companies and now also provide parcel, food and alcohol delivery services as well as micro-mobility systems with bikes and scooters.
So how is a typical day for a Uber driver in the Algarve? Luis begins work at 6am when he collects the car from the previous driver and he works through to 6pm. Drivers must leave the cars in a clean condition for the next driver’s shift. It is a long day but Luis has regular breaks: “I´ve never drank so much coffee in my life!” Luckily here in Portugal there are cafés on every street corner!
Throughout the shift Luis’s phone goes red indicating a fare is up for grabs. Drivers have the option of taking or refusing the ride and basically the closest and first to accept the ride gets the job.
A typical Uber day starts in the early hours of the morning to collect people from bars and nightclubs, then it is trips to the workplace and surprisingly many people living in the cities get Ubers to work, followed by the tourists going to the beach or the golf course. The afternoon fares see people getting Ubers to the airport and even coming back, Luis often picks up a fare. Early evening it is trips out to dinner and the bars, starting the whole cycle again.
Many passengers chat to the drivers often telling them personal details and almost using the drivers as a sounding board or psychologist! “I like chatting to my passengers and hearing about their life and when they realise I am an English speaker they are very curious about how long I have lived here. I get to share in their excitement of where they are going or how they are enjoying their holiday but sadly sometimes I hear tragic stories too.”
Safety is very important to Uber and the app provides passengers with safety recommendations such as not sitting in the front and checking the child door lock is off. Uber have a 24-hour support team to help with safety concerns and give passengers the driver’s name, car make, licence plate and even the driver’s rating and photograph, thus averting Uber impersonators.
The app also has an emergency button that calls authorities directly if needed and all journeys are tracked by GPS, so if a driver goes off track Uber checks in to ensure the passenger is safe. Furthermore the app allows for the passengers’ contacts to be uploaded so they can monitor the journey in real time if required.
“Some trips are a mystery tour as I never know where I am going to end up!” For one trip Luis drove over 54kms from Portimão to Rogil and facing the prospect of an empty car on his return journey he was surprised to get a ping from a young Australian backpacker wanting to go from Rogil to Lagos! “I am surprised how many young girls appear to be travelling alone across Europe.” The telephone pings are relentless and he has to turn the app off to take a break. Equally the app also turns itself off if a driver has logged ten hours in a shift.
Luis’ most “fun ride” was at 6am with two French girls who were still in party mood and “a good laugh as they insisted on having loud music on the radio and ‘danced’ sitting down all the way to their hotel. They told me ‘ You are the best Uber driver in the whole world’”.
Confidant, friend, psychologist, advisor, tour guide Luis can be all of these in a typical day as an Uber driver and there is never a dull day!
So now you know!
Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.