BEST OF 2021: How ridesharing killed Canberra’s 2 am cab queue

Gavin Dennett 30 December 2021 53
Uber vehicle

The arrival of Uber in Canberra in 2015 was a game-changer for nights out in the city. Photo: File.

Year in Review: Region Media is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2021. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2021. Today, Gavin Dennett looks back fondly at life before Uber.

Anyone who was finding their way as a young adult in Canberra in the mid-1990s knows that a night out in the capital was pretty good. From the sticky floor at The Private Bin to downstairs Mooseheads before the place burnt down, they were fun times.

There was Seasons Sports Bar; Liquid Lounge; a thriving gig culture at ANU Bar, The Terminus, The Asylum and Gypsy Bar; and four bourbons for $9 at Canberra RSL. And, of course, the seething responsible-service-of-alcohol black hole of Jolly Jugs at Pandora’s on a Thursday night.

All great memories from a time when rules were a little looser and Canberra’s social pulse was at its peak. But towards the end of every Saturday night out in Civic, there was an impending sense of dread at the prospect of the absolute worst part of the experience: the 2 am taxi queue.

More than two decades later, the thought of the queue snaking around Alinga Street into East Row as cabs slowly dribbled through the bus interchange still induces a cold sweat. You’d leave the nightclub or pub, get steaming chips and gravy from Chicken Gourmet, then join the back of the line, sometimes for up to two hours waiting for a taxi to get home.

It was shocking.

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Today’s younger generation wouldn’t have a clue about this notoriously consistent and fearsome element to a Canberra Saturday night out. Welcome changes to the taxi industry and the advent of ridesharing companies Uber, Ola and Shebah have given customers in the ACT more choice and rendered the queue extinct.

Uber arrived in Canberra in 2015, with Ola following in 2018, and all-female ridesharing service Shebah launching locally that same year. The ACT actually has an oversaturation of ridesharing options, which lends itself to separate problems, but revellers ending their night staring at the back of someone’s melon for two hours in the freezing cold isn’t one of them.

The issue back in the ’90s was the presence of only one cab company in operation, Aerial Taxis, and at 2 am on a Sunday morning there weren’t enough of them to cater to everyone at the same time. With a mass of boozed-up people all wanting to get home to hit the pillow, things often got heated. People pushed in and occasionally punches were thrown.

Sometimes drivers wouldn’t take passengers to certain parts of town if their shift was nearing its end – you can imagine how that went down.

It was also common for strangers heading to the same suburbs to share rides to split fares, but I’m sure this sometimes ended badly as well.

Much of this messy experience was in the depths of Canberra’s winters.

One of my best mates, Fred, never wore a jacket on nights out for fear of leaving it behind in a pub, so he would shiver his way through the queue at night’s end. Likewise, young hypothermic girls wearing short skirts and tank tops would cower together to stay warm in zero degrees. Absolute madness.

However, the queue did provide the occasional highlight.

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Back in those days, Canberra Raiders players were common sightings at joints such as the Private Bin and Corvo’s, and on one night in 1994 the boys were out celebrating a big win over the Sharks that afternoon. Brett Mullins had scored a hat-trick of tries, and while I was standing in the queue at about 3 am he bolted past – showing his trademark clean pair of heels – and bellowed, “I’m going for number four!” before disappearing into the night.

Unbelievably, in the next game, Mullins did actually score four tries against the Rabbitohs. Then he backed it up the week after that by scoring four again against the Knights. He really meant what he said.

Most of the venues from back then are gone, and Canberra’s modern nightlife has hugely evolved, but the city on a Saturday night still has a unique energy to it. However, young people out on the tiles don’t realise how good they’ve got it as they are free to go home whenever they want.

The dark cloud of the Civic cab queue has been banished to the annals of ACT’s social history, alongside Jolly Jugs and the Bin.

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53 Responses to BEST OF 2021: How ridesharing killed Canberra’s 2 am cab queue
Belinda Jurgens Belinda Jurgens 9:46 pm 02 Jan 22

Ahhh, the memories 🤣

Loretta Hately Loretta Hately 5:30 pm 31 Dec 21

Plus the huge brawls because of the drunken idiots waiting for the cabs.

Dan Bamford Dan Bamford 5:13 pm 31 Dec 21

Just like video killed the radio star

Martin Ross Martin Ross 10:18 am 31 Dec 21

Taxi queues are now in the city bus interchange, London cct (Baileys Corner), and outside Fiction nightclub and the opposite lane way. So not as confusing as it used to be. If you want one from Mooseheads, walk to Baileys Corner or the interchange. We are not allowed to pull up to Mooseheads as the police can fine us

Pete Rankin Pete Rankin 8:59 am 31 Dec 21

And the 2000s

Kerrie Biilmann Kerrie Biilmann 11:05 pm 30 Dec 21

Sarah Olivia Renee hahah a great read… I’m 100% sure we are included in this article 😂😂

    Danni Farlow Danni Farlow 6:54 am 31 Dec 21

    Kerrie “one more for Kaleen” 🤣🤣 Those were the days 😆

    Renee Osburne Renee Osburne 7:57 am 31 Dec 21

    Kerrie Biilmann yep remember those lines. Ahhhh the good old days

    Sarah Eliza Sarah Eliza 8:57 am 31 Dec 21

    Kerrie Biilmann those taxi lines were the worst !!

    Kerrie Biilmann Kerrie Biilmann 9:00 am 31 Dec 21

    Sarah pizza and hot chips were always good

Simon Chindamo Simon Chindamo 10:05 pm 30 Dec 21

Walk to Caltex get a taxi when they are filling up

Julia Nesbitt Julia Nesbitt 9:46 pm 30 Dec 21

It was appalling.

Allan Evans Allan Evans 9:26 pm 30 Dec 21

Hated cab queues

Brendan O'Brien Brendan O'Brien 8:42 pm 30 Dec 21

It was great having a mate on the front of the line hey Dave Bloomfield

    Dave Bloomfield Dave Bloomfield 9:32 pm 30 Dec 21

    Brendan good times

    Brendan O'Brien Brendan O'Brien 9:33 pm 30 Dec 21

    Dave Bloomfield indeed it was. Feels like a life time ago 😂

    Simon Chindamo Simon Chindamo 10:05 pm 30 Dec 21

    Dave Bloomfield The Dog house back in the day

Renea Hazel Renea Hazel 7:44 pm 30 Dec 21

Pretty sure I'll be going back to cabs this NYE. 2 hour wait (if it turns up at all) and $99 for Uber from Page Tavern to Charny? Not bloody likely!

    Martin Ross Martin Ross 10:15 am 31 Dec 21

    Renea Hazel you’re better off getting a cab. And tell the driver which way you want to go also. It’s your right to. (Btw I’m a cab driver working tonight)

    Renea Hazel Renea Hazel 11:34 am 31 Dec 21

    Martin Ross thank you. At least cabs can't spike prices!

    Martin Ross Martin Ross 12:09 pm 31 Dec 21

    Renea Hazel that’s right. Start the meter and off we go. If the extras has anything then you know something is wrong. The only time the extras should have something is if you’re being picked up from within NSW for which you’d be charged an extra $1.10. Or leaving the airport then $3 is added ($4.20 next year sometime). Nothing else. Or unless you manage to throw your guts up inside the car then expect to be charged $50 soiling fee for the car to be cleaned. Other than that no extra charges are allowed to be added to the cab fare

Kazz Mac Kazz Mac 7:08 pm 30 Dec 21

Loretta Carlene ahh the memories.......

Amy Pugh Amy Pugh 6:44 pm 30 Dec 21

Those were the days Linda Jamieson 🤣

Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 6:35 pm 30 Dec 21

Welcome to Canberra Cabs. If you’re ready, please say “Ready”

Allira Middlebrook Allira Middlebrook 5:41 pm 30 Dec 21

Ah those were the days, queues in the middle of winter, people yelling ‘anyone goin’ to Belconnen?’ In the massive line for a cab outside Pandora’s… so many brawls of people stealing cabs, fights while waiting. Dodgiest time when everyone wanted to just get home while freezing

Julian Sortland Julian Sortland 5:29 pm 30 Dec 21

Even better, a fast tram, free on NYE.

    Julian Hayes Julian Hayes 6:24 pm 30 Dec 21

    Julian Sortland that doesnt take 2/3 of canberrans anywhere near home.....

    Simon Wheaton Simon Wheaton 10:17 pm 30 Dec 21

    Julian Hayes "Happy new year from Transport Canberra! From 5pm on the 31 December until the last service, travel will be free on all public transport.

    Simply tap on and off on the day and your card will register a $0 balance. Don’t have MyWay? Just hop on and off services – no need to pay!

    Light rail frequency will increase from 7:00pm and the last service will depart Alinga Street Stop at 1:30am.

    Extra bus services have been added from Commonwealth Ave at the conclusion of the fireworks."

    Julian Hayes Julian Hayes 11:04 am 02 Jan 22

    Simon Wheaton light rail still doesnt take 2/3rds of canberra anywhere near where they live its a farce

    Simon Wheaton Simon Wheaton 11:45 am 02 Jan 22

    Julian Hayes so you think they can create a Canberra wide light rail system all at once? 😂🤦🤣

Jeffrey Brown Jeffrey Brown 1:59 pm 18 Jan 21

Ahhhh those were the days. Standing in the queue and watching the odd brawl of dudes trying to prove their worth. Was normal entertainment while waiting for the time to pass.

Kim Maree Kozjak Kim Maree Kozjak 10:25 pm 17 Jan 21

Belinda the queues were killers in the freezing cold, watching a good drunken brawl after a good feed of chips and gravy from Chicken Gourmet! Those definitely were not the days!

    Belinda Malam Belinda Malam 10:47 pm 17 Jan 21

    Kim waiting in that queue was the worst! Remember how bad it was every NYE?

    Kim Maree Kozjak Kim Maree Kozjak 6:03 am 18 Jan 21

    Yes!!!!! Our kids have no idea!

    Kim Maree Kozjak Kim Maree Kozjak 7:20 am 19 Jan 21

    Jacqleequack it was all good fun until the two hour wait in the cab line, in stilettos, without a jacket in -2 🥶❄️

Shane Westmore Shane Westmore 7:41 pm 17 Jan 21

ahh the days of rocking up to Insomnia or ICBM about 10am/11pm in the early 2000s... 3am was taxi shift changeover so we knew if 3am was approaching, we'd just stay a bit longer as there'd be no taxis for a while... sometimes used to stay to see the sun rising... chips & gravy from Chicken Gourmet at that time of night was like gold, or Rolo's pizza slices, so good

Sean Bishop Sean Bishop 7:24 pm 17 Jan 21

Yep, and the fights have surely decreased as well

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