The Outstation Trip
Trip distance: 41.54 km Earnings: 2301 LKR
The weekend was good. We were on our office outing, and after two nights ready to head back home. After bidding farewell to my teammates, I got in to my car. There was a good 50+km drive back home and I wondered, "Why not make something out of it?"
There have been several instances where Uber drivers were harassed outside of the main city by other regional taxi drivers. I saw an instance of this first hand almost a decade ago when the first widely-available Sri Lankan "call taxi"service came in to play. A driver who came to pick up a passenger almost got assaulted by other taxis who had their own taxi stand. This is not specific to Sri Lanka. I've seen that in many parts of Indonesia, ride hailing services are not allowed. When the Uber offices were first going to be opened in London back in 2012, there was huge protest against it. In 2014 there was a major protest by the drivers of the iconic Black Cab service in London against Uber. In 2019 a court in Frankfurt, Germany hit Uber with a ban and in the same year, transport authority of London decided not to renew the license for Uber.
As for me, I figured that it would be an experience either way and decided to turn my driver app on as I drove out of the hotel. The area while touristic, doesn't have a lot of local traffic and it was likely that anyone who wanted to go anywhere from there was going back towards Colombo, the commercial capital. 15 mins later, I got the first incoming request. And that seemed to be from the hotel.
The first thing I thought was, "What if it's one of my colleagues?". I had not previously picked up anyone I know via Uber. I didn't feel it was much of an issue, but I wasn't sure how they'd feel about going back home after a vacation on an Uber ride with me. The name of the customer did not seem to be a familiar one, I decided to pick him up.
As I drove back in to the hotel, I noticed that the customer was in fact a family of four. We were going to need some space, both in the car and in the boot. I greeted the customer and helped them to pack their baggage along with mine.
"Ah you are also going back somewhere?", the father asked indicating my suitcase.
"Yes, came this way for the weekend. Now going back home."
Once I started the trip, I realised that, that one odd where the trip was unfavourable to me was the one that I got. The customer wanted to go in the opposite direction to my home and nearly 40km down. I had taken up the hire anyway, I had to serve.
By this time I had figured that if a customer wants to have a chat they will initiate it. Unless I had a specific question to ask about the location or timing, I do not initiate small talk with them. I drove the car for about fifteen minutes. It took an errant pedestrian to break the awkward silence in the five person vehicle.
"So careless no? He would've hit your car if you didn't brake." The father said.
"Yes sir, people don't think about where they are walking no? When something happens they're also in trouble. I am also in trouble."
"Yes, and you might get beaten up by the people too!" the mother joined in to the conversation.
Now that the ice was broken, we continued chatting for a few more minutes. The family had been on a weekend vacation at the hotel and were now going home. The conversation was still a little jerky. I felt like they were just talking because it was the polite thing to do.
I looked at my app again as we were now halfway past towards the destination. Their drop off was set to right in the middle of the city without a specific location.
"Sir, your location is just Galle. Is there any specific hotel or place you want to go?"
"Ah no, we just have to get to the bus stand there."
The first thing I thought about was that they will have to load all the luggage back in to a bus. It's beyond borderline ridiculous to pack all that in a regular bus in Sri Lanka. I wondered if they were worried that I might complain if they changed the trip to their home.
"Sir, I can drop you off at your home. Even if there is a big change in the location, the app will adjust the trip charge for that."
"Ah no no, that's ok. We just need to get off from the bus stand." the mother replied.
"Are you sure madam? With all the luggage I mean? It's really not a problem."
"No no, it's ok. We are actually going a bit far. So we will go from here."
I made up my mind that they were possibly going to catch a very long distance bus and this city being a starting point, they would have a better chance of packing their luggage. We drove for a bit more. As we got close to the bus stand the father spoke again.
"Do you know where the buses to Colombo start from?"
"Colombo sir?" I was completely baffled. It was only about 60km from the hotel to Colombo and we've driven 40km the other way. "I know the place sir, let's go and check." I drove near to the inter-city bus stand.
As I helped them to unload the luggage I noticed that one of them were looking at my wrist. It is then when I noticed that along with my Fitbit, I still was wearing the wristband given at the entrance of the hotel. All of us had a matching one.
(I still don't know why they decided to take an Uber ride to the exact opposite side of where they wanted to go in the end.)