How ridesharing killed Canberra’s 2 am cab queue

Gavin Dennett 5 February 2021 22
Uber vehicle

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

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 2:00 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 2:00 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 3:00 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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21 Responses to How ridesharing killed Canberra’s 2 am cab queue
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 Rumble-Kozjak Kim Rumble-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 Rumble-Kozjak Kim Rumble-Kozjak 6:03 am 18 Jan 21

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

    Kim Rumble-Kozjak Kim Rumble-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

Neal King Neal King 5:59 pm 17 Jan 21

Couldn’t afford a cab as a student in the 90’s. If there wasn’t a designated driver we were walking back to Dickson.

Allira Middlebrook Allira Middlebrook 5:50 pm 17 Jan 21

Thank god, it was in those queues that all the drunken fights started! And in the middle of winter, those queues were the worst!!

Nunyabussiness David Nunyabussiness David 1:09 pm 17 Jan 21

Having lived in Sydney for some time, hailed a cab whilst walking up London Cct. Got about 300m, police pulled us over, told to get out and join the queue.

Got a smack un the mouth off 1 of 3 pissed idiots in the "queue"


Nell Feneck Nell Feneck 12:11 pm 17 Jan 21

It’s not ridesharing that did it - it’s the cost of taxis and the attitude of drivers

    Rohit 'Swarley' Singh Rohit 'Swarley' Singh 3:01 pm 20 Jan 21

    The old demand a 50 upfront then charge you cause you're cooked again

Kate Edgar Kate Edgar 8:21 am 17 Jan 21

Megan Edgar - ahhh the memories

Bruce Rossel Bruce Rossel 7:56 am 17 Jan 21

Clear memories of Pandoras the moose and the Bin as I was always designated driver.

Diane Huggett Diane Huggett 12:30 am 17 Jan 21

I thought that the late 90s included night rider buses.

    Buck Johno Buck Johno 2:07 am 20 Jan 21

    From what I remember of night rider busses it was only over summer.

Warren Morris Warren Morris 12:06 am 17 Jan 21

Thank god, that cab queue was just the worst!!

Steve Frame Steve Frame 11:15 pm 16 Jan 21

2am, haha, amateurs. I remember 7am subway followed by a nice long wait for a $20 taxi home

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