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Freebies for the freeloaders

Published by Skyring in the blog Skyring's blog.

I wasn't warming to Alex, the staffer in charge of the Canberra UberX launch. He was a bit too full of the company line for my liking, and I hadn't yet made up my mind to drive for Uber, anyway.

He was addressing a room full of hundreds of potential drivers. About 90% of them taxi drivers or foreign students, by my judgement.

"It doesn't hurt to offer a bottle of cold water to your rider," Alex was saying. "You go to the supermarket, get a slab of bottles for like, five bucks, offer them to your riders, and about one in ten will accept. That's like, two cents a rider."

Suspicion raised its pointy nose in my mind and began sniffing. Was water really that cheap? Did those numbers stack up? Wasn't this just Uber wanting drivers to dig into their own pockets?

Occasionally I buy a bottle of water, and it's more like two dollars than two cents. If every passenger took one – and who wouldn't take a freebie? – then that was coming straight out of my bottom line, along with fuel, tax, maintenance, and all the other little things.

But hey, I was going to give this thing a shot, see how I liked it, plug each day's numbers into a spreadsheet, keep track of everything and have some solid data to make a decision.

Alex also mentioned offering mints to riders. Well, fair enough. I'd always offered individually-wrapped, chewy, sweet Minties to passengers in my previous career as a limo driver, and they were well appreciated, didn't cost a mint, and if they had a downside, it was that I ate them when I got hungry, and each one added a little bit to the waistline.

At the supermarket, I inspected the offerings. Evian, Perrier, San Pellegrino. They all cost a bomb and promised a short cut to bankruptcy.

At the lower end of the scale, "Home Brand" was seven dollars for a pack of twenty-four. But their plain labels looked cheap. One notch up was a brand with a picture of snowy mountains and bubbling streams: ten bucks for twenty. I hoisted the pack into my shopping trolley, along with a bag of Minties and a few containers of Tic-Tacs.

When I began driving, I mentioned to my passengers that there was a bottle of cold water in the door pocket. As the hours passed, I said "cold-ish", and after four hours, it was just "spring water".

The rest of the slab was still in the plastic wrapping, loose in the boot, and each time I rounded a corner a little too vigorously, there'd be a rumbling from behind and a raised eyebrow from my passenger. "Ah, that's the ex-girlfriend," I'd explain.

Not everyone took a bottle. In fact, only a few did. Two tourists waiting in the hot sun grabbed a bottle each. A passenger heading to the airport took one with him. In Australia, you can take water through security. We live in the danger zone here.

Seventy trips later, I've still got twelve bottles left. That's less than one passenger in ten taking a bottle. About five cents a ride, all told. I'm not going to go bust in a hurry at this rate.

I found a little cooler bag. Holds eight bottles and a thin freezable container. Keeps my spare bottles of water cold for an entire shift and reduces the noises from the back. Looks tidy as well.

No takers on the Tic-Tacs, but I've had one or two passengers take Minties. I haven't been keeping a rigorous count, but I suspect family members have been dipping into the stock, which I keep in a glass coffee container in the front beverage holder.

Minties 002.jpg

I offered them to one gent, and he said, "Funny you should mention Minties. Haven't had any for twenty years, and then the missus bought a bag the other day. 'Careful', I told her, 'you'll lose a filling!' But she didn't listen."

"Ouch!" I said. "She lost a filling?"

"Nope. she lost a whole crown. Eight thousand dollars worth of dental work."

He didn't take a Mintie.

I'm sold on the water and mints. As Alex promised, it's a few cents a ride. It shows my riders that I care for their comfort, especially on a warm day. And most of all, it separates Uber from the local taxi company. It's the little things that matter. Water, mints, the AUX cord, a phone recharger cable. Add in the lower fare, and what passenger is going to choose a cab? It's a no-brainer.

I figure that anything that grows the business is good for me. More passengers, more rides, more money.

But, most of all, what I like is being kind to other people. I always aim for a smile at the end of the trip, and it's the smiles that keep me driving. Happy passengers = happy driver!
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