Fed up with 'ghost' passengers

PHOTO: The New Paper

He hates "ghost" passengers.

Mr Yeo Beng Huat, a full-time UberX driver, is talking about passengers who make bookings but do not turn up at their pick-up locations.

It is time wasted, he says, because he could have picked up other fares. Worse, the no-shows cannot be contacted.

"They never turn up. When I try calling their phone, no one answers. It is as if they never existed," jokes the 56-year-old who drives a red Toyota Vios.

This is a perennial problem faced by cabbies and drivers using private car hire services. But it is a particularly big issue for UberX and GrabCar drivers, who depend on call bookings exclusively and cannot pick up passengers who flag them down.

UberX lets users book private cars such as a Toyota Corolla or a Nissan Sunny, and the minimum fare starts from $8.

With seven taxi companies and several ride-matching app services available, passengers are tempted to use multiple options to book a ride quickly, say drivers.

Sometimes, this could lead to a sticky situation when the driver decides to leave after waiting for a long time.

SCOLDED

Recounts Mr Yeo, who joined UberX six months ago: "I once quarrelled with a passenger when I decided to leave after 15 minutes of idle waiting.

"The passenger finally called me back and scolded me for not waiting further. It was very unfair."

To avoid encountering these "ghosts", Mr Yeo uses UberX's passenger rating system to decide which fares to pick up. Passengers are rated out of five stars by the drivers. Those with low ratings will find it difficult to be matched to a ride due to a poor track record.

Drivers are rated by the passengers too, and those with low ratings may even be booted off the system, says Mr Yeo.

"I know UberX (and GrabCar) drivers often get a bad rep for poor service, but I think it is exaggerated. There is little incentive to treat your passengers poorly."

He was referring to previous newspaper reports, including one in July when a GrabCar driver quarrelled with a passenger over a discount code.

The passenger's account of the experience went viral on social media, and the driver was sacked.

But thanks to the technology in the ride-matching apps, private car hire drivers have a trump card up their sleeves if a dispute happens.

Says Mr Yeo: "The fare rate is determined by the app, and the route is logged and visible to both parties, so everything is aboveboard.

"If either party still wants to submit a complaint, he or she can do so through the app itself."

SECRETS OF THE TRADE

1. Plan your time well to make a profit after factoring in car rental and petrol. You will get a $400 incentive at the end of the month if you complete 100 trips weekly.

2. Fare payment can be done only through the app with a credit card. Remind passengers you are not accepting cash.

3. If a drunk passenger vomits in the car, take pictures of the damage. You can submit them for a monetary claim from Uber, though you still have to clean the car yourself.

ngjunsen@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sept 27, 2015.
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