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An Open Letter To Uber Miami: We Have A Language Problem

In Meanderings by Liana Lozada

EDIT NOTES: This post has been updated where bolded. These updates reflect conversations and questions that have come up as a result of the original content. August 3, 2016

Okay, Uber Miami, we need to talk.

Let me start by prefacing that these are 100% first world problems. And that my gripe for these issues may not bother everyone, but they particularly chafe me because I am a stickler for functionality, efficiency, and common sense. My irritability soars when things don’t run smoothly: This personality trait is in constant collision-mode with my attempts to be more Zen.

But Uber Miami has especially tested my Zen as of late, be it Uber Pool or UberX. Uber Miami, I dread you as of late. 

Let’s start with what I am sure many locals have experienced: Drivers not speaking English.

Now, I am very aware that Miami is a dual language city—whether we like to admit or not. However, when it comes to providing a service to a mass audience, including international tourists, Uber drivers should have basic English comprehension. This “letter” is not a gripe about people seeking work, or speaking Spanish in a place where it is widely accepted and profited from—This gripe is about safety.

Let me add that I do speak Spanish, and I can communicate directions quite clearly to these Uber drivers, but I choose not to. Why? Because I’ve been keeping track of just how many of them barely speak any English and the problems it causes. The tally: 9 out of 10 drivers struggle to communicate. My untapped Spanish has also given me the opportunity to eavesdrop, which I will get into shortly.

I will also add that I started  holding my Spanish back because I realized I was speaking Spanish with almost every ride, particularly when my boyfriend requested an Uber and could not explain to the driver which way we needed to go and why.

Now back to safety.

When a rider cannot communicate to a driver how to safely and efficiently get somewhere, we have a problem. The language barrier builds upon another problem: No one seems to know where the hell there are going these days. The drivers are too reliant on that terrible GPS Uber provides them. The GPS dependency and the language gap have lead to some very concerning situations.

uber driver wrong direction

An Uber driver scheduled to pick me up gets on 95 north. Meanwhile, I’m waiting in Midtown.

I have been in multiple cars where the driver thinks that turning their body completely around to try and understand what someone is saying is a good idea, despite operating a moving vehicle. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD, PLEASE!

Another scary scenario: I was in a car heading east from the 112 to I-195 back to Midtown. The driver’s GPS told them to exit on North Miami Avenue. However, anyone who lives in, or commutes by, the Midtown area knows (or can at least read the sign says “don’t exit here from the 112”) that crossing five lanes of traffic in a few hundred feet is a death trap. But our Spanish-only driver tried it anyway because the GPS said so. When I realized he could easily get us killed, I yelled in Spanish to continue to the next exit. He pointed to the GPS, and I assured him that Biscayne Boulevard’s exit would get us there just fine.

Yesterday, I was in a situation where arguments with poolers ensued because the GPS says one thing, but the riders insist there is a better way.

This morning, I was in the situation where the driver scolded the rider about where he pinned himself on the phone while the rider struggled to speak Spanish to the driver. Once they hung up, the driver was cursing under his breath in Spanish like I wasn’t even there. Once we found him, the rider entered the car apologizing to me. The poor kid was in a full suit with a briefcase in hand like he just left an interview. I told him he had no reason to apologize.

This evening, when my gringo boyfriend informed the driver he was going the wrong way, the driver pointed to the GPS. My boyfriend asked the driver to go straight, adding “that’s taking you out of your way.” So the driver made a U-turn in the middle of the intersection while the straight light was RED. To make matters worse, we couldn’t get my boyfriend’s seat belt to work. As we fiddled with his seat belt for almost five minutes, the driver said nothing. So when I got out, I informed the driver that the back seat belt was broken. And his response was, “I know; someone broke it.”

The Puerto Rican in me came out at that point. Zen went. Because seriously, WTF?!

The entertaining moments are when drivers don’t realize I speak Spanish and then complain to other poolers about how badly Uber pays them, how people don’t tip, and how no one knows what they are doing. Did I mention these individuals had tip jars or tip signs out? I know riders can tip, but soliciting tips is a bit of an anti-Uber experience.

tip sign uber miami drivertip jar uber miami driverThese aren’t all lower class drivers, either. I’ve been in BMWs, Audis, and hoopty’s with men and women, and the scenario replays itself.

Uber Miami, you’ve got some serious issues mounting on already prominent Miami problems. People here already lack common courtesy but bubble with entitlement. They already think it is okay to stop their car in the middle of traffic so someone can cross the road illegally to get to them. They already believe it is okay not to use their turn signal, make illegal turns, or cut off anyone in their way.

Uber Miami needs to understand that people are relying on them to get somewhere in one piece, so the channel of communication needs to be wide open. And the solution is so simple it is almost annoying.

Uber Miami should have language selections. I hear this exists in other cities, and why it hasn’t made its way to Miami is beyond me. Once a language option finally emerges, a quality assessment would be wise. These days, it feels like anyone with a license and an engine is allowed to transport total strangers. Uber Miami’s romance has died, and their service has fallen into that “only in Miami” and “we can’t get anything right” category we can’t seem to escape. What was meant to be a transportation solution has now become a regular headache. 

As I mentioned before, everyone has a right to work and make a living, and the language option is one that is needed in this market. However, I do not think it is fair to rate drivers based on their language dominance because it does not always reflect their skill level. These issues arise when communication cannot happen, and that fault falls back on Uber Miami for putting people in these scenarios to begin with.