We’ve all had those terrible passengers: the rude, condescending, or just plain weird, and everyone handles them in a different way. Senior RSG contributors Paula Gibbins and John Ince share their ultimate driver’s guide to the worst Uber passengers, including how you can spot them ahead of time and divert them while you’re driving. Any tips we missed? Leave them in the comments!
Drivers have it rough sometimes. We deal with unruly passengers who sometimes don’t seem to understand that we are not their servants, but people trying to make a living. We don’t want to put up with BS from drunk passengers—or even sober ones—but sometimes they are unavoidable.
Other times, the tone is set right away by the passenger, before we even go pick them up. If you wonder why your Uber driver is a bit upset before you get in the car, you might be the problem. Or they just had a run-in with what many like to call “paxholes.”
Below, we’ve collected horror stories from drivers plus ways to identify and handle the most common types of terrible passengers.
The Worst Uber Passengers: Stories from Drivers
Getting a text from the passenger when we’re enroute can sometimes be helpful if it’s more specific directions to get to a difficult-to-find place. Other times, it’s like this:
“Leave your windows down on your way to pick me up and leave them down once you pick me up.”
Yes, we’re in a pandemic and we’re supposed to allow passengers to put the windows down for better circulation. But spelling it out like this sounds… demanding. It’s not surprising to me that the driver who received this text immediately canceled. They did not respond but instead canceled as soon as this text came through.
I came across this on Reddit. The original poster said, “If they are demanding upfront, it will only get worse. Learned my lesson the hard way.”
Savvy drivers know that, usually, if a passenger is demanding via text or as soon as they get in the car, this ride is not going to go well.
Several others on the thread agreed:
One responded: “I did the same with a pax that texted me saying to make sure my AC is blowing ice cold. I understand the desire for a cool, comfortable ride, but this was a bossy attitude, from the type of person who is likely to make a complaint, that wasn’t worth putting up with.”
A responder pointed out it might be worth it for a long trip, but not for a minimum fare ride:
“If someone did that I would cancel too unless it was a Long Ride Notification. I ain’t gonna let someone talk to me like that for a 7 dollar ride, a $40+ ride and I may be able to accommodate some stupid s*** like that.”
Drive Thru Demands
This one is not completely inexcusable, but the way the entire situation went down is not ideal. I know I’ve taken passengers through a drive thru before, but it was like midnight and there weren’t any other cars in line, so I didn’t mind.
This driver shared the story below on Reddit, and it’s basically all of the worst things passengers do, from start to finish. Basically, the passengers were demanding as soon as they texted (problem 1), demanded a stop at Taco Bell after the driver said ‘no drive thrus’ and threw a fit about it (problem 2), then the passenger’s boyfriend (also in the car) threatened to fight the driver (problem 3). Finally, the driver kicked the passengers out.
This driver asked the Reddit community for advice on how to handle situations like that, and one person’s immediate response was not to get out of the car. Just for the safety of themselves, they should have stayed in the vehicle and insisted on the passengers exiting.
However, another poster said, “Why wait to get hit in the back of the head before you get out of your car? That is not smart.” In other words, they think the original poster had a good idea to get out of the car before the passengers had a chance to advance to physical violence.
The OP responded:
“Yes I didn’t feel safe sitting in front of some idiot drunk who just called me a pos.”
However, as some posters pointed out, the driver may have had a snarky attitude from the beginning. While we’re not saying every driver interaction is going to be perfect, this article is on the worst Uber passenger behavior and why it annoys drivers!
One piece of advice that seemed to come up a lot in this thread is, if you’re at the end of the day and just not feeling it, don’t do the extra ride. It’s always tempting to get one last ride in for the night, but if you’re mentally not there and already on edge, it can lead to bad experiences for both the passenger and the driver.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the cancelation message you get in the app is for the passenger you’re currently transporting or if it’s one that was added to your queue who is tired of waiting for you to finish up a previous ride.
The story below is unfortunately fairly common, especially for new drivers, but here’s how you can handle it.
This driver’s story: A new driver in LA. He showed up to pick up a passenger who, already, was threatening to kill drivers. [Editor’s Note: drive away!!] The driver decided to take the passenger anyway to a destination about 22 miles away.
11 miles in, the passenger cancels the ride. The driver didn’t notice, dropped the passenger off… then realized the ride had been erased from his Lyft history. The driver contacted Lyft, but nothing came out of it and the driver was never paid for the trip.
It sounds like this driver already has learned his lesson not to let an aggressive passenger in his vehicle in the first place, but there are a few more lessons to be learned from this situation.
Someone suggested: “If you don’t already get a two way dash camera. They are very inexpensive. I’m not sure about the app, but 1) I’d never pick someone up who was irate, 2) Try to screenshot any error messages that come up. If the passenger didn’t have the correct destination in the app, I’d ask him to add it. He can then take up any issues he has with Lyft directly.”
Here is our list of the best dash cameras for rideshare drivers.
A dash camera is a great way to have added security and cheap insurance for you. If a passenger sees it, they are less likely to be aggressive (though it may not completely deter someone), and it gives you solid evidence if a physical altercation takes place.
One responder mentions that the OP should have kicked the passenger out of the vehicle as soon as they canceled.
Adding unscheduled stops is a recipe for disaster and a lot of drivers do not appreciate it. There’s always the possibility that when the passenger’s fare is slightly higher because of these extra stops, they will contest it with Uber and the driver will lose out on money they deserve.
On the other hand, there are also the dreaded passengers who are looking to make a legitimate stop, but are taking a long time at those stops, expecting the driver to just sit around and wait for them for 10-30 minutes.
Either passengers don’t realize or don’t care that if a driver waits around for them, they are losing a lot of money because pay per minute is peanuts at best. The rule of thumb is, if it’s going to take longer than 3 minutes, the passenger should expect to have to order a new ride whenever they are finished with their errand or task at their stop. Drivers can’t wait around forever.
One driver on Reddit said, “If it’s a gas station or 711, I ask them to buy me a scratcher – it gives me something to do in between rides, I might get lucky and it’s a guaranteed tip, instead of ‘I’ll tip you in the app.’
If it’s a longer stop – like Walmart, drive-thru or grocery shopping, I simply tell them I can drop them off, but I can’t wait. Stops where they expect us to wait are only for quick errands (5 minutes or less) anything else is a drop off.”
Another driver suggested using a couple of little white lies or strong suggestions to get your passenger to stick to the original plan or to make their stop super quick:
- “Sorry, I have another ride in my queue and I can’t add to their wait time.”
- “I have a scheduled ride after this, so I can’t add time to this ride or I’ll be late for the pickup and could lose that ride.”
- “I can make a stop, but you need to add the stop in the app. The Lyft bots can get a little weird if I deviate from the route too much or stop for an unscheduled reason.”
This driver also suggested sugar coating things a bit and giving helpful advice to these passengers by saying something like:
“Just so you know for the future, you can add a stop in your ride when you schedule it, so that automatically builds in 3 minutes or so to make the stop, and you won’t run into this again.”
“Okay, now I know the app says that you have 3 minutes (it does on their end), but I can give you a little more time if you need it. (Now I’m doing them a favor.) Just know that if it gets to five minutes, I am obligated to move on and pick up other riders. So be sure to take your things with you.”
Letting the passenger know you know their tricks of leaving something behind so you can’t leave might help prevent them from taking advantage of you as a driver. But, if you’re going to tell them you will wait up to 5 minutes, you’d better be willing to do that.
It’s a trust thing. If the passenger trusts you, you should live up to that. If you betray that trust, you could make them a worse passenger in the future because they won’t believe a thing any of their future drivers will tell them.
I think we’ve all been there, but maybe not so bad as this driver. I know, personally, I’ve had several people get into my vehicle and say something along the lines of, “Oh good, you’re white and you speak English.” Of course with the addition of, “Not to sound racist…”
The driver in the video, however, got a whole other experience at a whole other level. Their (seemingly intoxicated) passengers were refusing to wear a mask in his vehicle and the male passenger was hurling racist comments.
I found it funny that the passengers were videotaping the driver as if he’d done something wrong by insisting they wear their masks, while he was videotaping them while they were going off on a racist tirade and even threatening to urinate in his vehicle.
Luckily, the predictions of the passengers were not true. They said this driver would never drive for Lyft again and that they got his license plate number, as if he was doing something wrong by enforcing the mask policy set forth by Lyft. Instead, the passenger who booked the ride has been permanently removed from the platform while the driver is allowed to continue driving.
Watch our reaction to this video here [warning: aggressive language]: Lyft Driver Gets Verbally Assaulted Over Mask Dispute!
New for 2020: Anti-maskers
I’m adding this one here because, since the coronavirus pandemic, drivers have seen a new kind of terrible passenger: the ones who refuse to wear a mask.
Both Uber and Lyft have policies in place stating that ALL drivers and passengers are to wear masks or face coverings during the entirety of a trip taken on the app.
This is touched on a little bit in the section above about the driver who kicked his passengers out for taking off their mask and then had racist comments thrown his way. But it’s more than just those two who refuse to follow policy.
There are also common lies we drivers know not to trust.
- “I’ll tip you in the app.” This one is so common it’s laughable. If a passenger actively states this, the driver knows 99% of the time not to expect any tip at all.
- “Cancellation reason — No mask.” Drivers have been getting burned by this one lately. A passenger will claim in the app that the reason they canceled the ride, or rated it poorly, is because the driver was not wearing a mask — even when they were. This is potentially getting drivers deactivated.
- “I’ll be quick, I promise.” Then 20 minutes later, still no sign of the passenger after making their “quick” stop. Most drivers would have canceled before this time anyway, but it does still happen to those who don’t have the guts to end/cancel and move on.
- “My other Uber/Lyft driver let me do X.” This may or may not be a lie, but just because another driver let you do something that shouldn’t be allowed on the ride (such as smoking) doesn’t mean I’m going to let you do it.
Below, John shares the common types of difficult passengers you may encounter as an Uber driver. Consider the types of passengers below as your field guide to the wild world of passengers!
Types of the Worst Uber Passengers
1. The Drunk
How to spot them: Anybody whose been driving for a while has had to handle an out-and-out drunk. After all, this is what Uber is for, right? We’re caretakers for those who can’t care for themselves – especially those who can’t stop drinking.
It might be their breath. It might be slurred speech or an aggressive manner. Or it might be an incorrect pin drop. Drunks are often disoriented and they’re just not sure where or who they are. If you arrive at the pickup location and there’s nobody there, prepare yourself – you are likely to encounter a terrible passenger.
Note: If you think you’ve got a drunk, a call is better than a text because with the call you can get a better read on what you’re up against. If you’re the least bit concerned, you’re well within your rights to cancel. The app knows you’ve arrived so just wait it out for five minutes and you’ll get your whopping $3.75 cancellation fee.
What to do about them: To deal successfully with a drunk, you need to first understand the mindset of a drunk person. Drunks believe that the more they drink the more charming they are, so let them think they are charming and let them believe they are entertaining. Laugh at their jokes.
Drunks want attention – give it to them. Let them have the floor. Let them think that you’re part of the party – but don’t actually join it. But, and this is crucial, be prepared to draw the line. Also, always have a barf bag, If you sense the barf is near, open the windows. Fresh air can do wonders for the breathing atmosphere. If you’re still concerned about barf, ask them if they’d like you to pull over to the side of the road. If they do barf, take pictures, get your cleaning fee and enjoy your vacation.
Related: Cleaning Fees 101
The Worst Version of the Drunk
Some drunks can be fun and harmless, some can be menacing and scary, and then some can be just downright gross.
Recently, a driver on Reddit shared an extremely gross story of drunk passengers who completed destroyed his car with their vomit. Not only is this beyond ‘regular puke’ (which in itself… gross), but it’s almost car destroying.
Much like the advice above, have a barf bag, open the windows, and if you’re very concerned, pull over and cancel the ride. It’s better than having to deal with vomit and cleaning fee reimbursement.
2. The Stoner
How to spot them: The first giveaway is usually that distinctive smell on their clothes but there are other signs like total spaciness. Last weekend, I got a ping from a young millennial who needed an Uber to Whole Foods. After I’d started the ride she suddenly realized she didn’t have her wallet with her. She also had that look in her eyes – like there wasn’t anybody home. Definitely a stoner.
What to do about them: Stoners are especially challenging because the weed affects everyone’s brain in a different way. Some get very passive – which can translate into passive-aggressive behavior. They might not even know you’ve asked them a question, because they’re off in their own world.
Generally, I’ve discovered that stoners travel in packs – and if you get several in the car together, let them go off on their trippy conversation amongst themselves. Your job is to get them there safely – not to entertain them. Let them entertain themselves.
3. The Know It All (KIA)
How to spot them: The first sign that you might have a KIA comes when they interrupt you. A KIA believes that whatever they say is more important than whatever you could possibly say – so they’re entirely justified interrupting as much and as often as they please. Last weekend I had one of these – who also happened to be an early Uber investor.
What to do about them: Use verbal aikido, by turning their arrogance back on themselves. Let them expand and extemporize since it frees you of any burden of stimulating conversation.
Don’t interrupt them. Eventually, they will run out of gas, and then let the silence settle in. Restrict your part of the conversation to questions. Keep your opinions to yourself. Let them monopolize the conversation. Save your breath and your thoughts for someone who is genuinely interested.
4. The Entitled Teen (ET)
How to spot them: You can often get a heads up by the pickup location, but that doesn’t always indicate. Once you get there, if they look like they’re under 18, they probably are.
What to do about them: I had an ET last week. Clearly underage. I had driven 12 minutes for the pickup. It’s always a tough call. I know a lot of drivers believe it’s our responsibility to rid the platform of ETs. Many drivers will refuse the ride and automatically send a message to Uber or Lyft ratting on them, and sometimes the passenger’s account gets de-activated.
But often Uber/Lyft simply let it slide, and I don’t think Uber / Lyft actually cares about teens or entitled teens using the platform. I actually gave an Uber to the 16-year-old daughter of one of Uber’s directors. If an Uber bigwig like that sets up an account for his underage daughter, that’s a pretty clear indication of how the company feels about it.
Instead here’s the approach I’ve adopted. I will give teens a ride. At some point in the ride, I will explain to them that a passenger must be 18. That usually brings denials or expressions of, I didn’t know that … are you sure … all my friends do it … My dad knows …
I remain firm. It is against Uber / Lyft terms of service. Then explain the possible consequences: if something happens on the ride – an accident say – Uber/Lyft can say we’ve violated the TOS and we’re not covered?
Editor: I’ve never heard of this happening but you never know with insurance companies.
If the teen is really obnoxious, I’ll give them a low rating. I know this strategy puts me at risk. I add this to all the other risks I take in this gig. If something bad happened, like an accident, a strong case could be made that Uber/Lyft has been negligent in enforcement and education of their underage policy. I have the records of the emails I’ve sent and have been ignored
5. The Control Freak
How to spot them: Control freaks are often the most insidious terrible passengers because they sneak up on you. When they first get in the car you might not even be aware you’re in the presence of a terrible passenger. They’re often quiet people, unassuming people, thoughtful people – but they absolutely must have their way. Everything about the ride must adhere precisely to their rigid standards of excellence.
The first sign is usually something innocuous. “Please put the air conditioning on.” “It is on,” you say. But the requests keep coming. Can you please put the window up? Do you have another kind of music? Please increase the flow of the air conditioner … window down please … new radio station … and so on ..
What to do about them: It’s all a matter of personal tolerance levels. You’re well within your rights to refuse any of their requests, but how much trouble is it to adjust the air flow on the air conditioner?
6. The Head Case
How to spot them: It might be a non-sequitur, it might be anything. If you’re not familiar with stoners or head cases, you may confuse them. Some differences include a lack of glassy or red eyes, or weed smell, with the head case.
Head cases will take anything you say and either get offended or confused by what you’ve said. They might mention the moon, and you say it’s nice, and then they go off about werewolves or astrology. Conversations with head cases can go anywhere.
What to do about them: This is the thing about conversations: people hear what they want to hear – and sometimes what they want to hear isn’t what they heard. It can lead to some pretty deep misunderstandings. I get out of this one by switching the subject to music and putting on something soothing. Music and silence is usually the best way to deal with a genuine head case.
7. The Cheapskate
How to spot them: That’s obvious. It goes without saying, Uber Pool and Lyft Line passengers are looking to get the most ride for the least expense. But there are other ways that a cheapskate terrible passenger can try to get more.
Some have perfected the art of the complaint. They’ll even make stuff up about you seeking to angle a free ride voucher or waiver of the fare. Unfortunately, this strategy often works – because of Uber/Lyft’s passenger-centric policies and mindset. It creates a kind of incentive for them to cheat.
What to do about them: The obvious solution is to have a dashcam. I don’t want to create the kind of suspicion that a dashcam can arouse, so instead I carry a voice recorder tucked into the door pocket for easy access.
If you do this remember the law: before you can record any private conversation in many states, including California, you must inform the passenger you’re recording the conversation. The simple process of informing them that they’re being recorded is usually sufficient to defuse any potential conflicts.
To Sum Up: When I get any of these varieties of terrible passengers, I automatically revert to the mental discipline of a karate expert, even though I’m not one.
But the mental process is similar. If a karate expert wants to smash their hand through a board, they focus their attention on the hand having gone through the board – having split the board in two. This mental mindset gets the hand through the board without pain.
If I have a difficult passenger, like any of the varieties of terrible passengers described in this article, I focus my attention on what it will feel like after the ride, the sense of relief when they’ve exited your vehicle. Remember – any passenger, no matter how much of a terrible passenger, is only in your car for a brief period. After that, you are free again. Focus on the freedom, not the difficulties of the moment.
Readers, how do you handle difficult or terrible passengers, and do you have any terrible passenger descriptions we should watch out for? Any horror stories you want to share?
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–Paula and John @ RSG