I am a relative Uber newbie. Well, I had ridden in Uber rides organised by other people but until a few weeks ago I hadn’t used the app myself.
But then I needed to put my car in for service, and the logistics of getting from Mitchell to work and back again without a car were a bit much. Within five minutes I had installed Uber and my life suddenly became just that little bit more convenient.
My first experience was so-so – the driver took me to the wrong place but it was en route and he was very apologetic. However, my second was very good. I got to chatting with my Uber driver, a young guy who goes by the Uber name Zeeshan and who is originally from Pakistan. He started driving as a student at ANU.
“How long have you been driving?” I asked.
“Well, since Uber started,” he said. “I was the first ever Uber driver in Canberra. Actually, not just Canberra but in Australia, because Canberra was the first place to legalise Uber. My first passenger was the Chief Minister Andrew Barr.”
Uber and other ridesharing services legally entered the Canberra market on 30 October 2015. And, yes, Canberra was the first Australian State or Territory to legalise the service. These days it seems pretty commonplace, but back in October 2015, it must have been revolutionary.
Back to my driver, and I was interested to see how he liked the Uber experience. It was raining and we were stuck in bad traffic (yes, it happens in peak hour in Canberra these days) and the 19.2 kilometre journey took 42 minutes. He seemed quite unfazed by this, apologising occasionally but still remarkably upbeat and chipper. As we were stalled in the traffic he offered me a tic tac. Not wanting to think about a Trump moment I accepted and, I must say, the new coconut-based flavour was very good.
“Are you still studying?” I asked.
“Well, my courses have finished and luckily I passed out,” he answered. After explaining that ‘passed out’ has another colloquial meaning in Australia, generally associated with over consumption of alcohol, we had a bit of a laugh and talked more about his life as an Uber driver.
Turns out ‘Zeeshan’ has indeed graduated, and does have a good job with an airline that he works for part-time. Sometimes he even flies as an airline steward. He still does ridesharing for Uber several days a week, which is helping to finance his goal of travelling around Europe.
Zeeshan said he enjoys being an Uber driver and has only positive stories to tell. “I feel sorry for taxi drivers,” he said. “What they do is so hard. They do 12-hour shifts which, if you think of it, is equivalent to driving from Canberra to Melbourne every day. In contrast, I can work a bit, then go home for a bit and rest.”
Uber’s popularity is on the rise in Canberra, with increased drivers and passenger numbers. According to Uber, across Australia, there are more than 55,000 active Uber driver partners and 2.8 million riders. Globally, there have been more than 2 billion Uber trips.
That being the case, I am surprised that more public servants or office employers don’t use Uber for work trips. If nothing else, the receipting process aids greater transparency by clearly showing the details of a trip. Zeeshan said that he did a lot of trips to and from Australian Parliament House. “I am always very busy when Parliament is sitting, he said.”
Do you think that Uber is a good thing for Canberra? What have been your experiences of riding with Uber?
Caption: Canberra (and Australia’s) first Uber driver