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How to Not Be Awkward in an Uber Pool (and Other Advice for Car-Sharing)

‘Better Internetting’ is our etiquette column for a better (digital) you

The advent of car-sharing apps, like Uber and Lyft, has changed the way we think about transportation — but it’s also introduced a whole new set of social interactions into the mix. We’ve long known how to act when riding in a cab or taking the subway, but what about when you find yourself in a stranger’s actual car, with your relationship outlined by an app?

Can you crack the window? (Yes.) Grab the aux cord? (Depends.) What do you do if the person you’re sharing your Uber Pool or Lyft Line with starts bugging the driver? (Who are your friends?) What if the driver starts bugging you? (Read on.) There are a lot of considerations you’ve never had to make on the local bus or in the privacy of your own car.

Here are some tips to navigating your app-powered cab ride:

Be cool to your driver…

This might feel baseline, but cars and transactions bring out weird traits in people. No matter the situation: Say please, say thank you, respond with a friendly tone of voice if they ask you a question. This person is a car-haver and is currently sober enough to drive — two things that may not be true of you — so convey your gratitude by not being awful to share a space with. Yes, you’re paying for a service, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be thankful to the person who’s helping you out.

You don’t have to chat about the weather if that’s not your vibe, but make sure you’re acknowledging that your driver has given you access to the back seat of their personal vehicle. They also had to idle outside of a pick-up address and try to track you down based solely on your name and a tiny avatar. Were you easy to find? Probably not! Thank them for waiting.

If you’re worried they’re not taking the fastest route, open with, “Ugh, this traffic’s brutal,” or “What if we took Hillhurst?” instead of something snappy. If you’re wondering about the aux cord, try, “Would it be okay if I played some music?” instead of, “Hand me that.” For the duration of this transaction, think of them as your tired mom picking you up from soccer practice. Be the passenger you’d want to have.

…unless they’re awful

I once got a driver who launched into a five-minute story about a physical altercation he’d recently had with a bicyclist. All of us have our chat limits, and that day I learned that feeling socially obligated to feign sympathy for a guy who clotheslines a person on a bike is where I draw mine.

How I decided to “fix” the situation is totally within your right to do, too: I pretended to be very fascinated with my phone. My distraction was certainly enough to make him pipe down, and I got the bonus of staring quietly into my social feeds for the rest of the ride.

If your driver has offended you beyond a collar-pull and a “Get a load of this guy,” have them let you out of the car. If they’re just a run-of-the-mill garbage can with bad opinions, let them know that your phone is incredibly important.

Split the fare at your leisure, but don’t be insane about it

If you’ve summoned the cab to pick everyone up, you’re about to get stuck footing the bill. This is fine when the ride is a $4 hop down the street, but if it’s a $70 trek to a distant airport, you’ll probably appreciate having a few dollars thrown your way. There are a couple approaches to splitting a cab fare, but some of them are gonna make your life much easier than others.

Let’s start with the bad ideas first: Both Uber and Lyft have a “Split Fare” button that lets you divvy up your bill with other users without ever leaving the app — the catch is your friends have to tap “accept” on their own phones while the ride is still happening in order for it to work. When the ride ends, so does the window to split the fare, which means that you can send out a slew of requests that are not only never answered, but never seen. If that description sounded convoluted, it’s because the process is, too. Often, someone shouting, “Okay, I split the ride with you guys!” in a car full of friends registers as “And now everything’s resolved!” which means money goes unexchanged and you’re left with the uncomfortable question of whether or not it’s worth texting four people for $13 the morning after.

To avoid that, just have people Venmo you. A simple, “Everyone Venmo me $13!” as you’re leaving the car usually gets things done. And if someone misses you night-of, it’s totally within your right to send them a charge for it the next day. To avoid being a petty goblin, it’s probably smart to have a threshold in mind for what warrants a Venmo charge. Maybe it’s, “If someone owes me $10 or more for a ride, I’ll request the money.” That seems about right, but whatever your comfort level is, go with that.

There’s also always the option to take turns grabbing the fare if you’re riding with certain people regularly. Your boyfriend’s good for it.

You don’t have to talk to other passengers

If you’re not in a hurry and you chose a ride-sharing option like Lyft Line, you might be sitting in the back seat for an extra 20 minutes while your driver drops another passenger at a house party.

A conversation might naturally spark up in this situation, in which case, great! Meeting people is cool and you truly never know what kinds of weird stories you’ll hear. (Remember when people were finding love on Uber and Lyft?) But if things go the other way and the car gets super quiet during your ride, that’s okay, too. This isn’t summer camp orientation, you don’t need their astrological sign — just pull out that phone, scroll through some feeds, and let your driver drive y’all into the sunset.

Christine Friar is a writer in Brooklyn, New York.