Uber in Wales: A Driver's Experience in UK

Driving for Uber is an experience shared by millions of drivers from around the world. What I wanted to check was if there were differences in the experience, or if an Uber driver from one country would "feel at home "driving in another.

Apart from the fact that UK drivers drive on the left-hand side instead of the right, it would seem that their driving experience for Uber is very similar to the US. Here is what it is like to drive for Uber in Cardiff, a city in Wales, UK.

The story is related to us by an anonymous driver from Cardiff who has been driving for Uber for just over 18 months. Statistics have shown that only 7% of Uber drivers have over 12 months accumulated driving, so when you find a driver with 18 months under his/her belt, you listen to what they have to say.

What is Uber in Cardiff?

Uber is like a large taxi company in that is has self-employed car owners pick their own schedules and work whenever they feel like. The driver's income is based on a standard Uber app algorithm, and they have to meet certain standards of performance to continue driving for Uber.

Uber drivers are self-employed, which means that they do not have any social benefits, so there is no holiday pay and no sick pay. Uber drivers will be seen working all hours of the day and night, and some will work for over 40 hours a week. On the other side of the coin, Uber drivers have no boss, but they do have guidelines that Uber is quite strict about.

One of the biggest concerns for Uber applicants in Wales is that they need to get a license, similar to taxi drivers. This means that Uber drivers go through a test to prove they know UK taxi laws as well as go through an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check (background screening check).

In Cardiff, Uber applicants need to take a knowledge-based test as well; this test means that applicants must memorize over 170 main routes to the city center and know every turn and option available. (It's a simpler version than "the knowledge" that London black cab drivers need to take, and that takes them 2 years to learn).

The knowledge-based test requires that applicants answer 15 questions about driving routes, and for Uber driver applicants, this is the hardest part of their application process. The test is oral based, and as our driver explained: "They have set routes you have to learn, and it's like an oral exam. You have said to which route you are on and explain everything along the way and the different turns. If you get it correct, it's two points, and if you make a mistake and correct it, it's one point."

The knowledge-based test continues, as the driver said "Then there are photo tests. There are about 150 places around Cardiff, and you have to say which road you are on. You get 15 of each of those, and the pass rate is 80 percent so when people tell me the quickest way to go I probably already know."

There are differences between the licensing procedure for taxi drivers and Uber drivers. Uber drivers do not need to go through a Cardiff test; they can take an easier knowledge test, such as from smaller city Newport. While taxi drivers do not have this luxury. So, there is a lot of animosity between the two, only due to this difference.

This was stated by an Uber driver "A big grievance among taxi drivers is that you can work for Uber in Cardiff if you have a taxi license that's not from Cardiff. The majority have Newport licenses. My brother is training to be an Uber driver, and I told him to go to Newport to get his license as it's cheaper and easier to obtain. If I was starting now, I would have done the same."

Some facts about Uber drivers:

After working for a few months, Uber drivers do know the quickest routes and are constantly updated about road state and traffic issues.

  • While Uber fares are set by distance and time, Uber drivers in Cardiff will ask their clients if there is a preferred route they like to take. This question arises to remove any back-seat driver issues, and the prices might differ between routes. The Uber driver commented "Sometimes there can be one or two routes and I'll ask people who route they prefer. Sometimes it would be cheaper to go one route but quicker to do another. "Last week I took someone from Atlantic Wharf to Ely. The shortest route is through town, but it's quicker to go straight to the link road and back at Culverhouse Cross. As it's about three or four miles longer, it costs more as mileage is the basis of the cost."

**Uber drivers need to know and appreciate different kinds of music. **

  • Even though driving safely and efficiently is the main issue for an Uber driver, many drivers face the most unusual music requests, as well as having the necessary equipment to help connect a passenger's mobile device to the cars audio system.
  • Our Uber driver said "Generally I have my own music - either BBC 6 music, a Spotify playlist or BBC Radio Wales. I have had a few compliments on my music - there are quite a few comments about it in my reviews. Sometimes though I let people play music through the aux cord and you get them raving in the back. I had one guy blasting a techno version of Sospan Fach."
  • If you give your passenger freedom of music choice, you can get tipped very well, even for short trips. As our driver told us that "It was only a short trip from half-way up Cathedral Road to St Mary Street, but we had a good chat and were listening to BBC Radio Wales when a ravey song came up. They asked me to turn it up, and I did. I got tipped £20 for that short trip."

Taking the occasional detour is standard practice.

  • On many occasions, drivers are asked to pop into a McDonalds drive through. "I do take people to drive-throughs. Often, I take them to McDonald's, and they offer to buy me something - generally I just ask for a coffee. Usually, I don't mind; I'm taking them home anyway as long as they are not eating it in the car and leaving it, it's not a problem."

The social aspects of driving.

  • Driving for Uber meets you up with many different characters. Some are good; others are not. As our driver told us "I'm used to the weekends - some drivers don't like it and just work in the days or will go home by a certain time. In my opinion, people are mostly fine; people are very rarely rude or aggressive. They're mostly just funny. One guy cracked me up, and I was laughing so much I had to compose myself for my next customer. He had this thick Valleys accent and was telling his friends the last time he went out he had gelled his eyebrows."
  • On another occasion, our driver was taken by surprise when a group of passengers asked him too to drive them to his home. "On one New Year's Eve I picked up two girls and two guys from a house party in Cathays, and they said they were going to another house party. It turned out the address was my address - I dropped these people off to a house party in my own house. I finished at 7.30am, and those four were still there, so we had a drink together."
  • Not all stories have a happy ending, or even a happy opening, in one instance "Often you become an agony uncle hearing people's life stories at 3am. Once I was taking a woman home, and she was telling me how she had escaped an abusive ex. At the end she gave me a hug - it was quite emotional."
  • On the bad ending side, "There's only two people I have had to refuse. One because they were quite aggressive, and it got heated, and the other time they got in the back with a takeaway and were dripping sauce everywhere."

The Vomit Bag Syndrome

It seems that inebriate passengers are universal in their decision where to be sick, and as with Uber drivers in Cardiff, may a time they need to clean up other people's messes.

  • Our Cardiff driver said "I have pulled over for people to go and be sick. Overall, it's a fairly low ratio - of the 6,700 odd trips I've done only once have I had it that bad I had to charge them. On that occasion the customer was left with a £95 bill - £45 for the valet bill and £50 for lost business. It was pretty horrible, it was just projectile and got on my shoulder, the car window, side of the door and in the fabric between the seats.
  • On another occasion, "One time a girl asked me to pull over for her, but after I dropped her off, I noticed she had been a little bit sick inside as well. Luckily it was easy to clean, and she had been quite apologetic, so I just cleaned it up and carried on."

Sports (Football/Soccer) Match days are chaos

Cardiff is the home of a prestigious soccer team, and when there are home games, the traffic, and the passengers can become quite boisterous.

  • Driving on match and sport event days is something our driver preferred and said "I tend to work big days as they are good money. "Anthony Joshua was the most I've ever made. On the night of his fight, I made £600 in one day as there are so many extra people it causes constant surges. Straight after the match, I got a 2.7x surge trip to Bath."
  • However, all is not just money, as your driver continued to explain "The Anthony Joshua night was particularly chaotic. When you are waiting for people on a Saturday normally, you get people knocking on the doors asking for rides, but I can't do that as I'm not a hackney cab. That evening I had someone come up with his arm in a sling offering me money to take him to hospital. Another time I parked up by the castle and someone wanted me to take them to Bridgend and when I said I couldn't' he got quite abusive to me. You have to deal with that stuff. You make a lot of money, but it's chaotic. I can deal with it, but other drivers choose not to."

Uber is a community in Cardiff

There are around 400 Uber drivers in Cardiff, and they meet up quite a lot for soccer, food, and drink.

  • Our driver explained about the Uber social scene, "It's a good community, and I've made some great friends with it. One of the early Uber drivers set up a WhatsApp group with about 80 or 90 other people in it for us to chat. Now there are two groups - one for general talk and another one for information like if there's a crash."
  • Uber also has social events such as Christmas parties, as well as arrange football matches for the drivers together with professional players. For the Muslim Ramadan, Uber provided an Iftar meal for the 400 drivers.

The Uber driver from Cardiff summed up his experience "Overall it works for me. It allows me to focus on my other projects and I'm earning more money than I was previously."

My take:

There are similarities between Uber USA and Uber UK. However, I find that the smaller communities, such as Cardiff, where there are only 400 drivers can become more sociable. It seems that Uber is also more regulated than in the US, where Uber drivers must be licensed like taxi drivers, so if you want to be an Uber driver, it is something you need to consider as a full-time job and not a part-time income. This is perhaps the largest difference between the two.

The bottom line, the Uber environment in Cardiff is different, the process of driving is identical, but the application stage, the actual Uber interaction on a daily basis and the way the drivers act as a community, is different to that of the US, especially in the large cities.

What do you think?

I have to state that it sounds like you live anywhere in the US, we also have WhatsApp groups and viber and skype and community meetings. Although living in a town where there are only 400 drivers sounds so very quaint and English!