A former London bus driver tells us why he decided to work for Uber instead

He genuinely didn’t see you running for the bus

For anyone poor (but not that poor) and living in and around London, Uber is probably your preferred method of transport. Your other options are tubes (ew), buses (even worse) or black cabs (exclusively for people who live in Knightsbridge and tourists). Most of the time, you’ll get into an Uber at 2am, be annoyed you had to pay surcharge at a peak time in the early hours of Sunday morning, grunt at the driver, tell them to turn the music down and mini-nap until the Prius finally rolls up to your driveway.

It’s amazing what you can learn from being friendly and chatty instead though. Take Faruk*. An hour-long Uber ride at Halloween turned into a lengthy discussion of Faruk’s past as a London bus driver and the horror stories which made him switch to working for Uber instead.

Waterloo Bridge, heading South towards the Waterloo I-Max Cinema

Waterloo Bridge, heading South towards the Waterloo I-Max Cinema

Drivers work under extremely strict conditions

If Faruk didn’t complete a route on time he’d be reprimanded, and if he hit or damaged one of the bus wing-mirrors (easy to do due to the width of buses) three times, he risked being fired on the spot.

Sometimes drivers genuinely don’t see you running for the bus

Faruk promised me that if you run for a bus and the driver doesn’t stop, it’s probably because the driver can’t see you because you’re stood in a blind spot. Unfortunately, people don’t realise this and would sometimes report drivers on the TFL app. When that driver had finished their route, they’d then be made to explain the situation to their boss and face possible sanctions.

Trying to strike a balance between keeping customers happy and also completing the route in a time and manner he wouldn’t get in trouble for was one of Faruk’s greatest challenges.

Slack for iOS Upload-2

London bus drivers aren’t allowed another job on the side

According to Faruk, you can’t have any other job outside of driving the buses, and if they find out you’ve done so they’ll fire you. This is bad if you have minimal hours, especially if they’re during the evening.

Uber, by contrast, gives the driver much more control

When I asked the hours Faruk now worked (it was 10pm), he said he works whenever he feels like it. He simply opens the Uber app on his phone, gets in the car and starts. He said he would probably work until 5am that night, having started working just before he picked us up.

Drivers pick their own car (within reason)

Uber drivers are given a list of cars they’re “allowed” to buy (the Uber you’re in is actually their own personal car). He said many drivers go for a Prius due to it being cheap for petrol in the long run, but the up-front cost of it was too expensive for him (we were in his Renault).

Uber drivers don’t have to pee in bottles in the car (but some of them choose to)

The myth that Uber drivers don’t get a break to use the facilities and have to wee in bottles in their car just isn’t true. Faruk said there are some people who’ll do this, but it’s only because they won’t turn down work. You can apparently decline a job for a break whenever you want, it’s just that some people refuse to.

Your Uber driver should never ask you for cash

Once I had a bad Uber experience, where the driver demanded I hand him cash as well as the Uber fare. It was probably the second time I’d used the service, so I did as he said. I told Faruk about this, and he said it was “super illegal”.

Uber drivers aren’t allowed to deal in cash at all. He said he’d heard of a driver who took two women to the airport, but they had to stop for the toilet. He said the toilet break would cost them £5 cash, and when they had no money on them, the trip to the ATM would then cost them a further £1 each.

Faruk advised that if anyone faces a similar problem they should get out of the car immediately and report the driver to Uber.

You can be chatty or silent without worrying about getting a low rating

Faruk said he didn’t mind if customers wanted to be silent or have a chat with him, as long as when he asked them necessary questions about the journey they answered. He said the only thing which annoyed him was when he knows a quicker route than the one Uber suggests and the customer accuses him of trying to charge them more (which isn’t how Uber works).

Don’t be a dick and choose a pick-up point which is easy to get to

By far Faruk’s worst experience so far was getting a big fine when he picked a man up from the airport who insisted on being picked up from the drop off part of the airport, something you’re not supposed to do. The customer was sat in the car while Faruk was given a fine for breaching the rules, and he didn’t even apologise.

In short, don’t be an asshole to your driver. Whether you’re on a bus or in a taxi, they’ll be grateful for it.

(*The driver asked us not to use his real name)