Ubering in JacksonBy NIKKI ROWELL,
A pregnant woman, Italian blues guitarist and a serviceman, Clark Carpenter never knows who will end up getting into his car.
That’s because he’s one of more than 16,000 drivers employed across the globe as an Uber driver.
The Madison resident began driving for Uber about nine months ago. However, he doesn’t just drive in the Madison area. Carpenter has taken customers as far as Hattiesburg and Columbus.
“It takes you everywhere,” he said.
A majority of Carpenter’s ride requests come from Jackson during the week. However, he said he gets many rides out of Madison during the weekend, particularly Friday and Saturday nights.
Over the course of four months, he drove people from 79 cities and 22 countries.
Uber drivers do not know where the customer is going until they get into the vehicle.
Carpenter said there is rarely a dull moment on the job.
“People share a lot of information,” he said. “It’s a lot like Taxi Cab Confessions. If there was a reality show for Uber confessions, it would make Taxi Cab Confessions look like child’s play.” Taxicab Confessions is a television series of hidden camera documentaries that have aired on HBO since January 1995.
Of course, what happens in the Uber, stays in the Uber.
“I no longer tell people that I’ve seen it all, because recently I saw something I’d never seen,” Carpenter said.
He shared a story of picking up a pregnant woman in labor en route to the hospital.
Carpenter has also picked up an Italian blues guitarist who came from Italy just to see the Mississippi Delta and meet local blues musicians.
“I took him to Bentonia to meet a local legend at a juke joint,” he said. “They sat in the middle of the room and played blues music together. I stayed with him and brought him back to Jackson after.”
“You get people in different stages in life, some who are up, some who are down,” he said.
Carpenter has driven everyone from musicians to politicians. However, we will never know who they are.
“It’s interesting to pick up people in all these different situations and hear their stories,” Carpenter said.
“I’ve picked up a serviceman who came home early and was surprising his family,” he said. “I️t was neat to hear his story and how he was retiring and was surprising his family with that information as well.”
He once sat in a customer’s driveway 30 minutes after the ride was over simply carrying on conversation with a friendly customer.
While the app only shows the six closest Uber drivers near you, Carpenter said he estimates around 75 to 100 people drive for Uber in the Jackson area on any given night.
Carpenter’s adventures with Uber began when he found himself in need of something to do.
“I was just going to fiddle around with it, but I decided to begin driving full time,” he said.
Each day, he might drive around 12 hours a day.
“I usually start at 4 to 6 a.m. and go until midday,” he said. “Then I usually take a nap and relax and go out again until around midnight.”
He estimates that he picks up around 12 people each day.
“The most I’ve picked up was 20 in one day,” he said. “It just depends on what’s going on around that time. It’s usually higher on the weekends. Like 18 to 22 people, depending on how long you work during the day.”
Once, Carpenter left home around 8:30 a.m. to begin working and did not return home until 3:30 a.m. the next morning because he was so busy.
“It definitely requires a lot of patience,” he said.
He added that Uber drivers are a great asset for information.
“We usually know what’s going on where and when, what’s safe and what’s interesting in the city and surrounding areas,” he said. “Most Uber drivers are willing to go out of their way to meet the needs of their riders. This includes helping people in and out of nursing homes and assisted living, hospitals, emergency rooms and at car accident locations. I’ve boosted off batteries and helped change flats for people who had requested Uber because they thought they were stuck.”
Carpenter said he will also occasionally take people from the metro area to remote locations.
“In those cases their remote locations don’t have Uber so we work with them to make sure they will have a ride back to the metro,” he said.
During his down time, he usually takes the time to return phone calls, catch up on emails and watch movies.
He is also part of an Uber driving group. They stay in touch throughout the day, discussing the job and chatting.
Carpenter said he has picked up a number of intoxicated people during his time working for Uber. He said officers commend him, and other Uber drivers, for their part in ensuring that people get home safely after a night out.
“We have a great relationship with law enforcement,” he said. “I think they are so glad that we are out here.”
He and his group have an emergency response plan, since they sometimes see accidents before an officer does.
“Officers will a lot of times say thank you for doing what you do,” he said. “Once, I went through a road block and they were laughing and said, ‘Your uber sticker tells us everything.’”
The Brandon Amphitheater has kept Carpenter busy with the large number of patrons needing a ride to and from the shows held there.
“I couldn’t keep up with the demand at the Dave Matthews Band concert,” he said.
The app allows users to select a driver closest to them and shows when the driver will arrive and the cost of the ride. Drivers simply accept the ride, and the app gives them turn-by-turn directions to the customer and their destination.
Trips start with a base amount, then increase with time and distance. When demand is higher than normal, drivers earn more.
The flexibility of the job is what attracts many people to drive for Uber, which is something that Carpenter likes about the job as well. Drivers can set their own schedule, allowing them to take it on as a second job.
However, drivers can bring in enough income to drive for Uber full time if they wish.
Based in San Francisco, the company can also help those who do not own a smartphone or a vehicle but still want to drive for Uber.
Drivers sign up online. The site prompts drivers to tell a bit about themselves and their vehicles. Requirements vary by region.
Then, after uploading a photo of one’s driver’s license, proof of insurance and the necessary information to start a driver screening, one must wait for approval. Once a drive is approved, they may start driving.
Jackson now offers uberXL, a high-capacity vehicle option. At the end of the ride, customers can rate the driver on everything from their driving to conversation.