It’s odd, but for me the most interesting part of a press conference isn’t the carefully-planned speeches of the celebrities. It’s the way that the cameramen and journalists operate, seeming to work together, but in reality fighting their own little battles to get the best shots, ask the best questions, tell the best stories.
All the TV networks were there, the main print outlets, a few locals. Including Charlotte Harper of The Riot ACT, a blog dealing with the Australian Capital Territory and surrounds. Not quite Huffington Post calibre, it’s a popular and lively forum for locals to discuss everything from garage sales to Federal politics. I love it.
Uber had a few people with cameras as well.
Canberra has a difficult transport situation. Most of the city was built in the Seventies and Eighties, when cars and petrol were cheap. It sprawled out over the Molonglo and Murrumbidgee valleys, and, heavily funded by the federal government, it became the ultimate suburban paradise of quarter acre house blocks, schools, playing fields, and parkland, all linked by impressive motorways.
After a while, the madness of continued sprawl set in, the Feds handed over to a new Territory government, funded by the inhabitants, and new suburbs became cramped and unpleasant, remote from the centre, amenities and roads kept to the bare minimum.
There’s talk of glorious public transport networks, but nothing ever happens. Roads are eventually and grudgingly built, a decade after the need becomes screamingly obvious. Traffic becomes more and more congested, people become less happier.
The problem is that Canberra occupies a huge footprint, and the population density is so low that public transport doesn’t work very well. We’d need another five million people on the existing footprint to make a proper metro transport system effective.
People need cars to get around, cars cost a lot, and once you’ve got one, you might as well use it to get the full value. Especially if you have children to get to school, shopping to do, people to see. The bus network is so sprawling and infrequent that it would take forever to do everything by public transport.
Taxis cost a fortune, and this is where Uber comes in. Getting costs down – by utilising the spare time of those with nothing better to do, and leveraging that massive shared investment in cars – moves Canberra closer to the point where residents can have the convenience and flexibility of a family car without the cost of actually owning one.
Most of the time, a car sits idle in the garage, or taking up space in a carpark. Or clogging up the roads. Driving is a skill that takes time to learn, must be practised with attention, and is extremely expensive when things go wrong. Reducing the number of roads and cars and drivers would pay enormous benefits, but Canberra, like most everywhere else, is trapped in a situation where the alternative is too bloody expensive.
There’s talk of a light rail system, but it’s foolish to imagine that the same people who don’t use the bus network now are going to switch to trams at a higher cost.
The government approach has been typically bone-headed. Raise costs for motorists, reduce speed limits, make parking more difficult, force them onto the public transport. All this does is make people hate the government. Nobody in their right mind is going to trudge their family a kilometre through the freezing winter or the baking summer to get to the bus stop to go to the tram to get to the city centre to go somewhere else.
Canberra is a city built around motorcars and that’s that.
The politicians made their speeches, the Uber guys spoke of opportunities, and we drivers grew bored.
At least until the speeches stopped and then everyone wanted a piece of us. Microphones were thrust in our faces, camera crews hijacked our cars – I had the pleasure of driving a young lady journalist around with cameras in the back seat, stuck on the windshield, poking in the windows, and it was grand fun until noon, when everyone packed up and went off to write their stories and edit their video.
And the Uber service was supposed to start at noon. I packed my camera away, opened up the Uber Partner app, paused a moment and hit the “Go online” button.
And the thing beeped at me. I had a job!
Not even feigning interest