Uber is the urban hiker’s safety net

by Lynn Hamilton

Walking isn’t sexy. Let’s just face it. Water skiing is sexy, aerobic dancing is sexy. Even kettlebells are sexier than walking.

But I had occasion to learn just how valuable the humble act of walking is after a month in the hospital left me seriously debilitated. I hadn’t broken a leg; I hadn’t been in a car accident. Just lying in bed, following surgery, made me so weak that I couldn’t walk without a walker, an oxygen tank, and a physical therapist tugging on my robe to keep me from falling. 

Since then, I have learned that this kind of catastrophic and sudden loss of body strength following surgery or accident is typical for hospital patients or anyone who spends a lot of time in bed. And it can happen shockingly fast for anyone over fifty. 

I regained my strength quickly, with the help of physical therapists and a lot of determination. 

But every time I asked my therapists what the best exercise was, they would say “walking.”

“How do I rebuild my stamina?”


“How do I improve my balance?”


“How do I recover the ability to pull myself off the floor, off the toilet, out of bed?”


Swimming and bicycling are equally good exercises that give you an all over workout and get the heart pumping.

But for people who are recovering from a trauma or have gotten very out of shape, walking is the easiest way to recover some kind of muscle tone. Walking is a springboard to doing more fun things like bicycling, swimming, skiing, etc. And you don’t need any special gear or clothing to walk.

Walking has become my primary lifetime exercise. When setting out on an errand, the first thing I consider is, “Could I walk this errand?” If my destination is five miles or fewer and doesn’t require getting on an interstate, the answer is often “yes!”

But what if I get half way to the coffee shop or the dentist’s office and it starts raining? Or what if I get dehydrated or my blood sugar crashes? Or what if I can’t really walk as far as I thought I could?

That’s where Uber, Lyft, and other car services, like pedal-cabs (https://friendlycitypedicab.com) come in. Car services provide a safety net for urban hiking unlike anything else. They are cheaper than taxis and safer. With Uber or Lyft, you know up front what you will be charged for the ride. Drivers and their cars are much more carefully screened than are cabs and their drivers. And, unlike cab drivers, Uber and Lyft drivers are carefully reviewed by the companies and their passengers. 

The how-to of using car services

Step One—setting up the app on your phone:

  • Download the app on your phone 
  • Establish your terms for payment, (Paypal or a major credit card)
  • Designate a home address (an emergency contact of sorts)
  • Set up a contact person with whom you can share your ride information
  • Familiarize yourself with the app before heading out—you can find numerous “how to” videos on YouTube, or you may want to have a friend walk you through requesting and then taking a ride.

Step Two—Reading a little research on safety

  • Determine how much you want to know about current privacy policies for both the drivers and the passengers. Privacy policies change, so you can keep up to date with simple searches, or by visiting the company website.
  • Both Lyft and Uber websites give advice on what you should and should not tell your driver.
  • You may want to read information online on how Uber or Lyft works for the driver—as it may help you to understand their challenges/how much information they receive about you.

Step Three—trying the app

  • Know the street name, and approximate address

Find the closest street to where you are on their app. Using the “your location” option can cause problems. The algorithm won’t necessarily detect your exact location, especially if you are in a built up area, like a hospital complex or a cluster of strip malls. Make sure that your pick up point is the street you are on.

  • Send a text to your driver describing yourself 

Uber and Lyft drivers are plagued with people who jump into their cars and pretend to be clients. If this happens to your driver, it can really increase your time waiting. To prevent misunderstandings, after you have booked your ride, text your driver a short message that describes what you look like. “Old white lady, black jeans” is often enough. Or “gray coat, gray cap.” You want to make it short and easy enough to read quickly.

  • Establish a contact person for trip status 

As you wait for your ride, or before you choose the back seat (which gives you more mobility options and more personal space), share your trip status with your designated person. It will send a text to that person who will also be able to track your progress.  

  • Look for a “ping” from the Uber driver

Uber drivers typically send out a ping that they have “arrived” at your pick up point at least thirty seconds before they get there. At this point, you should be able to track their location on your phone and be on the lookout.

  • Arrived/not arrived

If you get a notice that the car has arrived, and it’s nowhere in sight, you should call the driver, using the number provided on your phone. Lyft drivers wait five minutes or less for passengers, whether the drivers are in the right location or not. 

Lyft drivers also have the option to mark a passenger as a no show and charge them five dollars. The vast majority of drivers for hire are honest, but if you pay for a ride you don’t get, go to the app’s help center and request a refund.

  • Check the car details (color and make)

Uber and Lyft give you the make and color of the car along with the license plate. At least match the make and color of the car before getting in. 

  • Exchange names (as you’re double checking to see if it’s the right car)

Ask the driver who they are picking up, and then ask them their first name. It should match the information sent to you by the app. So few people take this precaution, that drivers aren’t expecting it. But a polite, “who are you picking up, and would you please tell me your name?” will get them with the program.

This new sharing world is all about first names. Don’t give or ask for a last name. 

Step Three: The Ride — Your job as passenger

You will be rated. Drivers rate passengers, and while you may not live or die by your Lyft passenger rating, it’s important to keep it high enough that you can get a ride. This is all to say that, yes, you can become a persona non grata in your city’s car service industry. Here are some tips:

  • Obviously, you should not throw up in someone’s car, and, especially, the car of someone whose car is his livelihood. 

Beyond that, there are other courtesies that may mean nothing to you but they mean a great deal to drivers:

  • Be on the curb or near the curb when your driver gets to your pick up spot.
  • Unless you are really going the wrong direction, don’t quibble with a driver about the route.
  • Don’t be rude.
  • Don’t slam the car door entering or leaving.
  • Leave a tip. Surveys of Uber drivers suggest they will overlook little things like lateness or sullen silence if they get a tip. If you were perfectly behaved and didn’t keep your driver waiting, leave a two dollar tip. If you were in any way a pain in the ass, leave a five dollar tip.

Step Four:  Review your driver (But for the grace of god, there drive you)

  • Five Stars:

If a driver gets you to your destination without being rude and without driving through someone’s yard, violating traffic laws, or crashing his car, you should give him five stars overall and five stars for conversation, clean car, driving skills, safety, and the other measures that Lyft and Uber provide in their review system. 

Before dinging a driver with a bad review, please consider that most Uber drivers are students, retirees, grandmothers, granddads, or unemployable for a roster of reasons, only some of which are within their control. 

Also note that Lyft’s requirement that drivers make fun conversation runs contrary to your interests. You don’t want fun conversation; you want him to drive safely. You want him to see that nearly invisible turn off near your house. 

If, in an attempt to drive AND be pleasant, your driver misses his turn off, just guide him where he needs to go, and give him five stars for conversation and driving skills. 

If your driver drives in complete silence, while concentrating on driving safely, all the way to your destination, for god’s sake, give him five stars for conversation and driving skills.

  • Report bad drivers

Ninety-nine percent of car service drivers are decent people and deserve the benefit of the doubt. But if you run amok of a truly bad driver, you have a duty to report that driver. 

We all have to participate in keeping the sharing world safe. 

For example, I once rode with a driver who bragged to me that he had left his last passenger on the side of the interstate. She was getting on his nerves. Only after he had a good laugh about this did he realize he was driving me down the interstate, and that I might be frightened.

You have to report that kind of thing.

Step Five: Celebrate your resourcefulness.

When you’re trying to get in shape or stay in shape, it matters to have a resourceful attitude.  You may not always be able to time your walks with others, and you may want to explore on your own or with a friend.

When you or your friend runs out of momentum, it matters that you have a solution that will keep you from over-extending yourself.