Ask the Past: Uber driver

My hours have been cut back at work, so I've started working as an Uber driver a couple of evenings a week. What's the best way to get a five star driver rating in a hurry?

There's not a lot that the past can tell you about how to hack an algorithm, but if you want to make a good impression as a driver, then that's another story altogether. You probably know the basics, but when it comes to the finer points of making a good impression, Mrs Oliver Harriman's Book of Etiquette (1942) has some advice:

A chauffeur opens and closes the car door if there is no one else to do this. He spreads the lap robe over the occupants' knees and assists them in and out of the car. He touches his hat whenever an order is given, unless the car is moving, in which case he merely nods his head.

You might be surprised to hear that knowing when and how to touch your hat might well be the most important aspect of a good driver. Here's The Book of Good Manners: Etiquette for All Occasions (1912) on the subject:

While on the box, his attention should be wholly given to his horses. He sits erect, his shoulders well back, his feet together. Should his employers or their friends give him a word or smile of greeting, he responds only by touching his hat, which he repeats in recognition of an order, unless transmitted through another servant.

Unfortunately, neither of them has much to say about what to do when you're driving. If you're in any doubts about how to do that, then perhaps this advice from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1906) is what you're after:

The coachman’s duties are to avoid everything approaching an accident, and all his attention is required to guide his horses. The pace at which he drives will depend upon his orders - in all probability a moderate pace of seven or eight miles an hour; less speed is injurious to the horses, getting them into lazy and sluggish habits; for it is wonderful how soon these are acquired by some horses. Unless he has contrary orders, a good driver will choose a smart pace, but not enough to make his horses sweat; on level roads this should never be seen.

And of course, the right outfit always helps to make a good first impression and set the right tone for the ride. Mrs Oliver Harriman has some advice for helping you pick out something seasonally appropriate:

In the country and in town in the summer, a grey or tan whipcord uniform with cap to match may correctly be worn by a chauffeur. In the winter he wears a heavy cloth coat and matching cap. If the driver's seat is uncovered, he may wear a fur coat and cap.

I'm sure that will help.

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