Switched on and plugged in
Switched on and plugged in

For Uber, launching in a new city must be like Starbucks opening a new coffeeshop. They’ve done it hundreds of times before. They know how to work the media, how to offer swag and codes for free rides, how to get the thing happening.
I was at the War Memorial yesterday when the call came. “Would you like to be at the Canberra launch tomorrow? Maybe answer a few questions from journalists?”
Of course I would. See how the thing was done, get to watch the performers. Uber’s general manager in Australia, the ACT Chief Minister and a host of media people. Maybe I’d get a few shots of cars and celebrities.
I’ve seen media conferences before. This one was notable for the cool Uber staffers in t-shirts, sunnies, logo caps, and smartphones welded to their hands.
These children of the Nineties are nonchalant and confident. They have the future in their hands, they are surfing the waves of trending tweets, they are taking the ride to the future.
For this old cabbie, well into his seventh decade, it looks like the 21st century is moving into cyberspace. Passengers and cabs, meters and streets, money clips and making change; all old hat. The future has less “stuff” in it, fewer things to lay hands on, more intangibles, more cloud, more dreams.
The cars, the drivers, the passengers are physical. Getting people from A to B, that doesn’t change. The taxi ranks, the call centres taking bookings, the money – all gone. All somewhere nebulous. Maybe in all those smartphones, maybe in some bank of servers in North Dakota.
This is history being made before my eyes. Canberra is the first capital city in the world to legalise Uber. Now part of the landscape, not just some nuisance thumbing its nose at the law. Maybe in other cities in other places, they’ve held press conferences with heads of government. But they’ve been denouncing Uber as unregulated, illegal, unsafe.
Here, open arms. No sense in trying to stem the flowing tide, I guess. Canberra is aiming for a level playing field, consistent with safety and efficiency. The existing taxi industry will have to move to match Uber. You’d think, with the advantage of a significant local presence stretching back generations, they’d have the game sewn up, and a few blow-ins from San Francisco wouldn’t get a look in.
But no. The taxi industry, mostly old fogeys like myself, would like to see change kept to a minimum. Maybe wind the clock back a bit.
Hah. Fat chance.


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