Tag: Canberra

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Pride goeth before a fall, as either Shakespeare or Jesus said.
Yesterday’s morning session was excellent. I had job after job after job. I strapped on my Ubercar for the afternoon peak, ran it through the car wash (finally!) and had two quick jobs. The first, from a couple of blocks away, was over the lake to Barton, a lovely gent taking his first Uber ride.
The second, only a few blocks away from my drop-off, was out to the airport. She totally screwed up the pick-up and drop-off points, but somehow I found her and got her to the right spot.
At this point, I love the ability of passengers and drivers to communicate with each other. Problems are quickly sorted out, and a great many “no-shows” are avoided.
Uber was offering guaranteed hourly rates in Civic, so instead of hanging around the Parliamentary Triangle, where at that time of day there is plentiful parking and work, I aimed for the city centre.
Problem here is that there are few free parking spots, and I could either burn petrol by cruising around, or find a free park a bit further out.
Rather than add to congestion and pollution levels, I opted for the latter. For a while I slunk around Braddon, taking whatever green minutes were left on parking meters. Four minutes here, six there…
After a while I moved a few streets out and sat on a vacant two hour spot near a church.
The problem here is that Uber automatically allocates jobs to the closest car. By sitting away from the action, I was missing out. I came to that conclusion myself, about the same time that Uber sent me a text suggesting I move closer.
I prowled around and found a spot in Civic and sat on that. Good spot, and I would have had a job quickly if I’d been there two hours earlier. But I waited idle for another hour or so, glancing at my phone every few seconds for an alert.
I turned off the engine to save petrol, and when finally I got a job, I turned the key in delight to get back on the road. Maybe it would take me to the airport, where my wife was scheduled to arrive in an hour.
I turned the key and nothing happened beyond a few clicks and moans. Flat battery.
Turned out to be an expensive lesson. By the time I was mobile again, my wife had landed and caught a cab home. The service guy was busy with the battery when she texted me. Seems we have the original 2009 battery in the Golf. “Great battery,” the guy said, “and I wish they sold them in Australia. But they only last so long.”
So. If I want to pick up jobs in Civic at peak hours, I either have to pay for parking or cruise around the streets. And if I park, I have to keep the engine running.
As a cabbie, I always had a taxi rank to park on. And radio jobs were allocated on an area-based queue, so even if I was parked several blocks away, so long as I was in the area I’d eventually be allocated a job, even if another cab were closer.
I’ll have to rethink my strategy here.

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One week on

One week on

“Ask me in a week’s time,” I told one journalist at last week’s launch of Uber in Canberra, “and I might not be so full of the company line.”
Here it is, seven full days later. I’ve driven (almost) every day. I’ve kept records of fares and kilometres, fuel, expenses, times, everything I think is relevant and plugged all the numbers into a spreadsheet which crunches the numbers.
The time and money are important, but you know, the real payoff came about five this morning, when two of my passengers knelt down in front of my cab, their hands clasped as if in prayer and their eyes full of happiness.
Yesterday was rainy. Heavy rain. Mud and rubbish, leaves and tree branches on the road. My poor little Golf was looking pretty seedy on the outside, and definitely needed a vacuum inside. Today I decided to start the day around 0430, when nobody would be around, run the car through the wash, clean it up, maybe get a couple of airport jobs later.
I’d barely left home when I got a job. Turned out to be the Maccas in Braddon, a few blocks away, and four very merry young men climbed in after a night on the town.
They directed me towards Gungahlin, a nice long fare. One of them had a free ride credit and asked if it would be honoured. Those things are run by the app, and I have nothing to do with it, but so long as the passenger enters the code correctly, Uber will pay for the ride.
“Hey, it says we can play music!” the chap riding shotgun said. By tradition, the front seat passenger is the captain, but pays the fare.
“Sure,” I said, “I just set it up. It works through Spotify and goes through my phone into the aux socket.”
I indicated the cable running from my phone on the dash to the auxiliary sound input, which for some odd reason is located in the centre armrest console.
I love it when passengers choose the music. I was pretty sure my Mozart piano concertos weren’t going to cut it with this bunch, and much as I love them, I was getting a leeetle weary of the tinkling ivories.
My passenger selected some songs and bands I’d never heard of, but they sang along happily as we headed north up Northbourne Avenue, and they were jaunty tunes, to be sure.
And I smiled along. I love having happy people in my cab.
I’m sorry to say that Canberra Cabs, my former outfit, copped a lot of rude comments from my passengers. I suspect that their current drivers do not appreciate jaunty cheerful music as much as they could.
We all smiled and laughed and it was the best ride of my Uber career. What a buzz!
At the end of the trip, high fives and fist bumps all round. These guys had partied all night and were aiming for more.
And then I noticed two of my back seat passengers kneeling down before the headlights, in attitudes of worship. I killed the lights before I blinded them entirely, but bless their joyous hearts, they made my day.
That was the high point, but it didn’t cool down much after that. For nearly five hours, I was in constant motion. I actually pulled up beside the vacuum cleaner, but got a new job before I could put my coins in.
Some wonderful passengers. Some were content to listen to Mozart, some wanted to chat – and we had some wonderful conversations – two needed to get to the chemist for painkillers, one chap rang me to see if I could accept his bike in the Golf. Tight squeeze, but once we took the front wheel off, we squeezed it in.
A repeat customer, by the way.
I love my job.
I actually had a few minutes to rest, and I chose the lakefront area where Uber had launched in Canberra exactly a week earlier. The clouds hung low over the capital, joggers and cyclists and rowers radiated energy, Mozart soothed my restless mind, and I wondered if the weeks ahead would be as busy as this first one.
I have no doubt, to be honest. About half my passengers have used Uber elsewhere and couldn’t wait for Uber to hit Canberra.
And the other half were first-timers, hesitantly trying it out. I’m confident they’ll be back.

Lake run
Lake run

Insane!

It’s been crazy busy for this novice UberX driver. Uber handed out a lot of free ride codes, word of mouth has kicked in, and everybody wants to try the thing out.
Melbourne Cup day was a big earner for me. Taking all these beautifully dressed people out to the racecourse, the app hardly stopped offering me fares. I’d drop a passenger off and immediately have a new job.
Of course, Uber had offered a guaranteed $25 per hour for 11 AM to 1 PM, so there were plenty of drivers out on the road.
They also offered the same deal for 3 to 6 PM after the big race, but I figured all these folk would have a few hours worth of grog and fast food onboard and the chance of “soiling” was high.
Uber says that if need be, take photographs, take the car to a professional detailer and submit the bill. That sounds time-consuming and expensive.
I’ve got an international flight coming up in a few days. I’ll sock away a few airsickness bags and have them in the car before I drive an evening shift. From my years in the cab, I’m pretty good at spotting problem passengers and dealing with those who might throw up, but still, I want to have some insurance available in case I’m caught on the middle of a bridge or stuck in solid traffic with nowhere to pull over.
And yesterday, the day after the Melbourne Cup, even busier. I worked six hours in two mini-shifts, and the jobs flowed in. Good taxi work. Good passengers. Good money.
I’m getting a fifty-fifty split of passengers. People who have used Uber before in other cities and have been waiting for the Canberra start. And people using the system for the first time. They might have a free ride or discount code, and they are a little uncertain about how it all works.
But I give them a good ride, offer cold water, play Mozart, and they are sold at the end when I just end the ride with a swipe on the app screen and they can get out and go on their way with no delay, no fumbling with credit cards or cash.
I can see the good word spreading and good times ahead for this part time driver.
Oh, and my rating has climbed to 4.96. Happy passengers: happy driver!

Back in the saddle again

Back in the saddle again

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to have a fare so soon. I must have accidentally clicked the accept button or something. But there it was, a few minutes after launch time, and not only was I not entirely ready to go, I was on the wrong side of the lake.
I’d gone out that morning and bought a quadruple adaptor for my auxiliary power socket. I needed one socket for my GPS, one for my phone, one for the dashcam, and one to offer to my passengers for recharging their devices. I’d sort of squashed it into the centre console and it was a bit of a tangle of cables. I’d sort it out later, but for the moment it wasn’t quite the professional image I intended.
I also hadn’t found the best spot for my phone mount. In fact I was in the process of sorting that out when the fare fell into my lap.
And my phone stayed on my lap for a few hours, because I was too busy to find time to park and set up the phone mount.
Uber was all of a sudden the flavour of the month, and everyone wanted to test out the system.
My first fare was a pick up near Braddon, going to the airport. A little unfamiliarity with the app, and I misjudged a turn, leading to a u-turn and delay. I imagined my passenger tapping her foot and tutting as she watched my antics on her phone; on being assigned a car and driver, a passenger gets to watch them get closer on the map.
But she said when I collected her that I was spot on, no she hadn’t been looking at the app, if I’d arrived any earlier, she wouldn’t have had her bags quite ready.
I handed her the seatbelt, closed her door and began my first Uber drive. Hers, too. There were a lot of first-timers using the app that day.
I had seven fares in the three hours I was on the system. I stopped for lunch and coffee, and to attach my phone mount, and I had to collect my wife from work, so it was a very short day, compared to the twelve hour taxi shifts I’d had in the past.
Busy shift, good passengers, familiar work. Three trips to the airport, two to Parliament House, two to other places. Just regular taxi work, really. I rated all my passengers five stars and three were good enough to give me a similar rating.
Two passengers cancelled within seconds of making a call. I guess they were just testing the app and went a bit too far. I later read that one passenger called up a Uber car and then realised they hadn’t a destination in mind. They ended up making a few circuits of Parliament House and heading back home!
Getting familiar with the app was the biggest challenge. A doddle, really, compared to the horrific experience I’d had on my first day, years ago, as a cabbie, juggling the meter, the computer, the radio and the credit card machine.
All in all, I enjoyed the day’s work. About $30 an hour, less tax and expenses. I’ll never get rich on this.
But riches aren’t judged by a bank balance. Not in my book. The currency I value most are smiles, and I made a happy profit there.

Five star driver
Five star driver
Token driver

Token driver

The launch on the lake
The launch on the lake

I stepped back, took a wide shot. My little mirrorless looked like a toy compared to some of the big guns around. Looked like photographers were either professionals with ten thousand dollar cameras, or amateurs with smartphones. I was the middle ground.
A fabulous day. Bright and warm, Canberra with the big iconic buildings, the artificial lake, the long sightlines, the feeling of optimism and energy. What a buzz!
Flies were buzzing, too. I was kindly given a spritz of Aerogard from a nearby Segway kiosk, but most of the people were unprepared, and I’ll bet if you checked the footage carefully, some of the honchos in front of the cameras were dauntlessly munching down on blowflies as they put out their corporate or political spiels.
In the photo above, check out the cool young woman in the black t-shirt (hashtag #yeswecanberra) wearing the mirrorshades. She’s flanked by the other two drivers at the launch, Ulli from Switzerland, and Tom, who got the honour of taking the Chief Minister for the first official Uber ride in Canberra.
The hot blonde is not important, except to help me point out the drivers, but she is part of the Uber team. From comments passed, I don’t think they all work together in a big corporate headquarters, but rather log in from around the country (and the world) in some post-modern virtual work environment.
I’ll admit it. I’m impressed by the way these young men and women are shaking up the world. The promises of technology, the linked-in teams, the sheer power of the Internet: we’re seeing marvels created from nothing. AirBnb, Wikipedia, WordPress – these are things that are essentially nothing much but a few clever people engaging the coöperative behaviour of the rest of us to seize the day and make an impact.
AirBnB, which I’ve used a few times, is one of those internet things which have taken travel out of the main street travel agency and into the hands of anyone with an iPad. Wikipedia is kind of old hat nowadays, but it is really a marvel of how thousands of nerds can find ways to work together to create something incredibly useful. And WordPress, well, it lets nonentities like me find a global audience. Every now and then some blogger stumbles on some injustice, some magic moment, some sweet insight, and they are famous.
More prosaically, it lets all of us in the wired world see life through the eyes of people like ourselves. Or different in every way. I know a homeless guy living in Central Park, a pair of grey nomads roaming the world, a librarian in Oxfordshire, a pilot somewhere over the Middle East, a lady photographer in the Canary Islands – all blogging their happy way through life.
People like us. Take a look at those two drivers. Ulli on the left is another hot blonde who took the opportunity to don some Uber clobber. Out of Switzerland – St Moritz was mentioned – she’s lived in Canberra for years, knows everyone in the arts scene. She bought a brand new car for her Uber career.
Tom is a younger version of myself, who really should find a driving cap to cover up his bald spot out in the hot sun.
All three of us drivers were people like us. People like Canberra’s population of public servants. People who know the town, know the language, not exactly scrambling for every buck.
Someone in the Ubercloud probably picked us to be the public face of Uberdrivers in Canberra. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for this modern way of getting people from A to B and I think it will eventually transform our road-dominated cities into more livable places where people don’t need to own cars, but will have the convenience of a car magically appearing on demand.
But the vast majority of Uber drivers in Canberra won’t be locals of European ancestry. Not unless a whole bunch of retired public servants decide to make a few extra bucks with their cars and swamp the Uber website with applications. Which might well happen.
Most of the Uber drivers are exactly the same demographic makeup as Canberra’s taxidrivers. Young men born in Asia. And not a single one invited to the launch.
I’m sure there were sound corporate reasons for this, but I thought it just a little bit unfair on the people who are going to be doing all the real work. From what I’ve seen, these drivers have enthusiasm and energy to burn, and some of them drive cars that make my little silver Golf or the average Ford or Toyota taxi look boring.
You want a ride in a sapphire blue V8 driven by a guy who could be a Bollywood star? He’s out there, and he’s not going to be playing Mozart piano concertos on his CD system. Uber’s definitely a lot more colourful than whitebread old geezers like me.

U-Day

U-Day

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.

Uber’s real business

Uber’s real business

Shortly after applying and for the month or two after, I worked out that Uber wasn’t really interested in ride-sharing. Sure, they might be a $US50 billion business out of that, but behind the scenes…
I uploaded all my usual details, name, email, phone, photo, date of birth and so on. Scans of my drivers licence and passport. Car registration and insurance documents.
I went to an information session, taking copies of all documents. They were photographed and they made me sign so the signature on my drivers licence could be verified. Next step of the process involved fresh uploads of my identity and car documents. And two days ago, I had to upload yet another copy of my car rego.
There were also specific forms I had to fill in and sign concerning criminal and driving record checks.
All this paperwork was to satisfy the ACT government that Uber was only allowing reliable, verified, safe drivers onto the system. It also counters the repeated line pushed by the taxi industry that taxidrivers are safe, but you don’t know who you’re getting with a ride-sharing app.
Apart from the fact that existing taxi drivers and Uber drivers are pretty much exactly the same people, Uber has gone to a lot of effort and expense to ensure its drivers are identified and checked every step of the way. When I went through the certification process for my taxidriver licence, I had to pay my own police checks. Uber has picked up the tab for that, and with a reported three thousand applicants, that cannot have been cheap!
And, final step is the clincher. So that I could be paid, I had to give them my bank details today.
So, I’m pretty sure I know what racket Uber is really up to.
Identity theft. That has to be the game.

Take my ID!
Take my ID!