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Transport / Mass transit

"London is apparently littered with bottles of discarded Uber piss." So why are cab drivers peeing in bottles?

Uber drivers have their fair share of logistical difficulties. Momentum, the magazine launched last year by the company to provide its drivers with support and advice, numbers among them such pressing concerns as “keeping fit despite driving all day” and “finding a toilet” .

Sadly, we don’t have an issue to hand, so we’re not sure how the company expects drivers to use the bathroom while on the job. But based on other evidence, it looks like drivers have found their own, impressively innovative solution to the whole peeing problem.  

From Twitter, earlier this week: 

But it could be just that driver, right? 

Well, no. A reply, a few minutes later: 

And another: 

So far, so anecdotal. But some digging around on independently-run Uber driver forums (again, not entirely verifiable, but it’s a start) implies that the practice is pretty common among drivers, though uptake seems depend on location (we’ll get to why in a minute).

On this thread, one driver explains that he has trouble finding a bottle of the right, er, size and width to pee in. Other drivers respond, recommending Gatorade or Vitamin Water bottles. 

Another recommends disposable urinal bags, available in packs of six from Amazon for a mere $12. Drivers on this thread, meanwhile, claim to use “pee cups” or “pee jugs”. 


So why this desperate state of affairs? Some forum users joke that efficient use of time is key to an Uber driver’s business, and so refusing to stop to relieve yourself could just be a way to rake in more rides.

But the confusion among other drivers who haven’t needed to resort to an in-vehicle pee receptacle hints at another, more location-specific issue. Those who advise finding “a dark area with trees” or a 24-hour Wal-Mart are mostly based in the US, where parking and facilities are far easier to find. But in cities like London, free parking is thin on the ground, while non-customer use of toilets is usually frowned upon.

Public toilets in London, especially at night, tend to be placed in areas with busy nightlife, where drivers are unlikely to find a parking spot. Yes, that driver in the original tweet could have gone to Starbucks – but he could have ended up paying both the price of a coffee and a parking ticket for the privilege. 

One driver on reddit says Washington DC’s bathrooms are also particularly driver-unfriendly: 

Bathroom breaks… It’s really the only aspect of driving for uber that bothers me! In downtown, DC business are definitely not hospitable to non-customer bathroom use… Many spots (McDonald’s for example) go so far as to lock their bathroom doors and attach token machines to unlock them. 

In fact, the same kinds of issues affect most people who drive for a living. The UK’s declining number of public bathrooms – one in seven of which closed in the three years to November 2013 alone – has made it much harder to find available facilities. This Quora thread implies that London’s cabbies face very similar problem to its Uber drivers, though one commenter emphasises that they draw the line at adult diapers:

No London cabbie I know would own up to wearing diapers!!  (We call them nappies).  

But the driver on Reddit raises another, separate issue, this time about the Uber business model in particular. Uber recently introduced a guaranteed hourly rate for drivers if they abide by certain rules. These include accepting 90 per cent of ride requests, staying online for 50 out of every 60 minutes, and completing at least one ride an hour.

The move was designed to stop drivers working for multiple rideshare apps at once, but it has a side effect. A couple of bathroom breaks – which could require driving all the way to a public bathroom, or buying food or drink in order to use facilities –could easily break one or more of these rules, depriving drivers of vital income.

All in, it’s one more reason to fight to keep public toilets open in major cities. Alternatively, you could support organisations like the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund, which runs London’s handful of “green hut” rest spots for cabbies (we assume these aren’t open to Uber and other hire-car drivers, though were unable to reach the charity to confirm). These were founded in the late 19th century, but, like public toilets, have dwindled in recent years. There are now just 13 left in the capital. 

Or, of course, car firms could take a little responsibility for providing facilities and breaks for their drivers. But for Uber, a company which has little to no contact with its drivers, this seems just a little unlikely. 

We have approached Uber for comment and will update this piece accordingly if and when they respond. 
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