Since March 2019, one Uber driver has been serving the students of the University of Connecticut with shocking regularity, building a resume of nearly four thousand rides over that time. His last name, oddly enough, is Park.
And on this chilly Friday night, just outside the UConn campus, Joon Park takes shelter in the driver seat of his 2017 Nissan Altima. Out of the cold for a moment, Park lets his tank fill with gas, gets out and replaces the pump.
He climbs in and buckles his seat belt, readying himself for a busy night.
Fridays for Park are typically busy, but at this moment, one of UConn’s highest rated Uber drivers has nothing to do but sit and wait for his next client. It’s about 6 p.m. No one is at the campus bars yet, but things will pick up soon.
“I don’t have any rides right now,” he says. “I’m about to park at my usual spot and sit.”
Currently, Park’s Uber rating stands at a whopping 4.96 stars, a hair away from the perfect five stars that is considered the crowning achievement amongst drivers.
While Park says he does his best to maintain his score, his main concern is making sure UConn students get home safe and sound. The score is a benefit he says comes along with treating everyone with respect when they are in the car as well as getting his clients home in a timely fashion.
“My biggest thing is, this is a big campus. People gotta get across campus. It’s cold. People gotta do it safely,” says Park. “That’s pretty much why I’m up here, is to get people from point A to point B safely, and it’s my job to make sure they do so when they’re in my car.”
While Park is talking, he stops to pick up some students who have requested his service. They try to enter his car with five people, something which Park says is off-limits.
One of the students draws the short straw and gets left behind. Once he drops them off, Park explains that “lapping up,” or one rider on another rider’s lap, is against Uber’s guidelines.
“When they wanted to lap up, that’s the problem. I can only take as many people as I have seatbelts,” he says. “Safety is my number one priority up here. I know that I’m never going to get in an accident up here, but still, I don’t want that on me.”
Perhaps this is how Park has maintained his spot in the pantheon of campus Uber drivers. He is genuinely concerned with the safety of his clientele.
In a fastcompany.com article written in July 2018, journalist Neil Pasricha asked his Uber driver (who held a rating of 4.99 stars) what his secret was to maintaining such a consistent high score. The driver responded with a set of tips, including that he doesn’t pick up drunk customers.
When Park hears this, he quickly gets animated, voicing his frustration with the driver. As a driver for students on a college campus, Park says he takes great issue with drivers refusing service to drunk customers.
“I have a problem with that. This service was designed to get people from point A to point B if they don’t have a car, or if they’re inebriated,” says Park. “One of the reasons I do what I do, when I post what I post in Buy or Sell, is to make sure no one up here is ever without a ride. I want to make sure everyone here has a safe way to get home.”
Park’s regular posts on the UConn Facebook group Buy or Sell, like those of his recognizable Altima, are one of the reasons he is so well-
“I literally tell people. I put my number up on Buy or Sell publicly, to tell people to call me and I will come and get them at no charge if they need a ride home, because I do not want people feeling they are stuck or they have to drive while intoxicated when there are people that will come and get them,” says Park.
“I have drivers up here at UConn that refuse to serve drunk kids and it’s like, what are you going to do? Make them walk home? There’s a lot of busy roads up here, people speed down these roads, I don’t want people walking home on these roads some nights. And it’s also cold,” says Park. “So, you’re honestly doing the community a disservice when you’re driving like that.”
Perhaps the sense of responsibility was gained during his six years in fire and emergency services.
“I unfortunately have had to respond to a great number of fatalities. I’d like to see that number decline. It’s been a personal thing for me because I hate drunk drivers, one. I don’t do this for money, I do this so people have a safe way to get home,” Park says.
And while anyone is welcome to get into Park’s car, he can kick them out just as quickly. However, he says he hasn’t had to do so yet, and his clientele at UConn is generally good-natured and respectful.
“You guys get unruly sometimes, but it’s not bad,” says Park.