71-year-old Tonia Heukelom has been an Uber Driver for 5 years, and she won’t be stopping any time soon
At the age of 65, after 38 years working as a flight attendant, Tonia Heukelom entered the world of retirement with a lot left in the tank.
It wasn’t long before Tonia affirmed she was by no means ready to settle down and relax; her supplementary pension proved to be ineffective and she still needed some additional income to make ends meet. On top of the financial strains – and perhaps more significantly – boredom had also become all too familiar to the recent retiree.
“I worked as a flight attendant with several airlines for 38 years,” says Tonia. “I retired at the age of sixty-five, but the money that I receive on a monthly basis is not very much. I also still have loads of energy, and I love working. Stopping wasn’t an option for me.”
It was completely by chance that Tonia would find herself in an Uber information meeting; at the time, she had heard of Uber but knew almost nothing about how it worked, or that she herself could become a driver.
That spontaneous meeting would pave a new road for Tonia, who immediately made the decision to sign up.
Surprisingly, Tonia was informed that age was indeed going to cause some issues. However, it wasn’t Tonia that was too old – there is of course no age limit to sign-up as a driver-partner – it was actually her car that was deemed too senior to meet the criteria. But, that wasn’t going to stop Tonia, who leased a vehicle directly from Uber without hesitation.
Soon enough, Tonia was on the road – and from the very first ride, she knew she’d found her perfect post-retirement pastime.
“I found my first ride very exciting. Sure, I was used to helping people on the plane, but now I was in a much smaller space with them. Fortunately it went well – it actually always does. I speak to a lot of nice people; I often go to coffee with them after a ride. I am getting to know the city better and better. “
Now, at 71 and in her fifth year as an Uber Driver, Tonia drives five days per week. She explains that sometimes, she can’t resist staying online, not only for the earnings but also for the memories and connections she makes with her passengers.
“I have fun with it and sometimes have special meetings. Recently I had to bring an English couple to the hospital and I went inside with them. Later, they sent me a message about how happy they were with my help. Uber makes me feel like I’m needed.”
On another occasion, Tonia picked up a seventeen-year-old boy, who was traveling to a sheep farm near the city to stay and work.
“I picked him up in the morning and brought him [to the farm]. When we arrived, an angry farmer came running. The boy was far too early and [the farmer] did not have time for him, he shouted. We just stood there!”
Not wanting to leave the boy stranded, Tonia went above and beyond to look after her passenger – despite their initial trip ending.
“I then brought him to the city. ‘There is now a nice exhibition going on’, I said. I wanted to wait for him, but he asked if I would go with him. Then I went offline on the Uber app and together he and I watched the exhibition and ate and drank something.”
After dropping the boy at the farm once again – this time to a much happier farmer – the two decided to stay in touch. They continue to message one-another today, and Tonia says the boy is having the time of his life. These kinds of connections are what Tonia hoped for when she took on the job, and what keeps her on the road
“I get energy from it, it is not at all tiring what I do. I want to continue my work as long as possible.”
Tonia has no plans of stopping any time soon – in fact – her future with Uber may soon take new heights:
“I’m working on my drone certification, because Uber wants to invest in flying cars. That is the future, is it not?”
As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, Uber wants to recognise all of the inspirational women like Tonia Heukelom who continue to inspire us every day with their passion, kindness, and motivation. Ride on, Tonia!