In The Driver's Seat: On The Road With Uber's Ice Cream Delivery Drivers

10:03am. Briefing time. We're running three minutes late because we decided to combine some dry ice with washing-up liquid in a coffee cup at HQ. Three minutes of watching smoke and foam pour onto a kitchen bench later, and six Uberees are gathered around a table full of Uber-branded hats, t-shirts and phones. Today they're on a crack mission to deliver delicious tubs of happiness to Uber customers in the form of Gelato Messina ice cream, and I'm along for the ride.

"Dry ice doesn't explode in an esky or anything does it?" asks James Frankel of Uber Sydney. James has worked with Uber for the four months or so as an Operations Intern. Despite his title, James is one of the most experienced members of the eight-person Uber Sydney team.

The eskies have just started making a weird popping sound. It's probably just the tens of tubs of Gelato Messina ice cream shifting around inside.

James stresses to the table full of drivers and riders that today will be intense. "Be prepared to get a phone call that says 'we're getting hammered in Surry Hills, we need to go to the Inner West of Sydney," he warns.

There are 10 teams around Sydney covering different regions delivering ice cream today. This team is delivering three different flavours of ice cream to ares in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.

Uber Sydney isn't using any of its existing partners on the road for the #IceCream2014 promotion, instead it's enlisting new drivers in the form of friends and affiliates.

"We still need to keep partners on the road to keep up with demand," James explains.

Uber Sydney has been working with universities around the city to get Brand Ambassadors on board, and it's using them today to walk and cycle ice cream to customers.

The sink is still smoking from the dry ice we put in there earlier...

Other teams around Sydney are walking or riding bikes to drop off their ice cream. This team, consisting of five cars and one Vespa scooter, is the only team armed with vehicles. The Eastern Sydney team's job is to deliver more ice cream than all 10 other teams combined. They have a competitive advantage on four wheels, so the pressure is on.

Around the world right now, over 100 cities are working to deliver different ice cream flavours to Uber cities everywhere.

Primarily, this is a marketing stunt: a prop to entertain the masses, attract new users and generally distract from headlines that point to Uber partners being fined for operating ride-sharing services around the country.

10:23, and the team dons their colours: Uber-branded beanies and t-shirts. Bright blue decals are plastered onto the cars so that the masses know that the Uber ice cream mission is passing them by.

The rules for the day are simple: everyone gets ice cream, an Uber beanie and a napkin. No money changes hands: it's all sorted through the Uber app. The ice cream men and women are told to smile, be positive and use the Uber app effectively.

The troops are read out a message of support from David Rohrsheim, and the troops are pumped.

The team rolls out at 11am, horns blaring as the ice cream convoy gets its first requests. The race is on as Sydney all screams for ice cream.

On The Road

I jump into the first available seat with Tom in his Mercedes. Right now he's on a day off, but normally he's working a few jobs at the Sydney football stadiums as an usher and delivering pizzas to pay the bills.

A young guy, Tom was roped into helping by James from Uber after the two knew each other from school.

Our conversation is quickly cut short, however by the telltale sound of the Uber app on Tom's phone: we have our first customer.

The first delivery is for a guy named Troy in Paddington. We've already had to turn down a job before we got to Troy, simply because we couldn't encroach on the turf of another team.

The drone of Apple Maps navigates us to our first destination in Paddington. Left turn, right turn, straight ahead. First stop.

The one flaw in the service is that nobody really knows the flavour of ice cream they're getting. It's luck of the draw. Hopefully nobody is allergic to nuts.

Not Troy though. Troy couldn't be happier, especially seeing as he's the first customer of the day.

"I love this!" he tells us as we hand over his ice cream and free beanie. "I was really stressed out at first because the [ice cream] button wasn't showing up on the map! Now that it works though I'll tell all my friends," he adds. First satisfied customer of the day.

The drivers can't deliver ice cream unless they have two tubs or more of the delicious gelato sitting in the mobile eskies, so it's back to base to pick up more.

Back at HQ, the sink is still smoking from the dry ice we threw down the sink, and the elite ice-cream service of the future keeps ticking over.

Two more drivers have showed up, and they're busy assembling more Messina boxes as we pick up four more tubs of gelato.

Before we even leave the street, we're booked again for another job. Potts Point this time. We're coming for you, Tim.

We need to speed up our deliveries on this one: a parking officer is taking an interest in our makeshift ice cream van. We don't get out of the car for this one, and we're on our way.

"Look! It's the Uber Ice Cream van!" remarks one passer by. Whether state lawmakers or taxi monopolies like it or not, Uber is gaining ground in Australia's cities.

Back to base, and the cycle starts all over again.

James from Uber is watching over the teams on his laptop as they fan out across the city. Uber employees get access to Heaven — a sort of God Mode for Uber employees — which shows the location and status of every car in the Uber network on the road at any given moment.

Drivers will keep doing this until they either run out of ice cream or until it reaches 5pm. After that, they'll all regroup, count their deliveries and get their dancing shoes on for a massive party that's being held at the Uber Sydney office tonight.

The phone beeps again: it's time to hit the road with more ice cream.

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