I WAS recently summonsed to have a chat with a “communications lead” from the global technology cum transport giant Uber (not to be confused with the home-grown web hosting company UberGlobal).
In my career, this has happened twice with corporations, the first time with Apple a couple of years ago. Between Apple’s market value of $733 billion and Uber’s $40 billion, it seems I only attract the attention of the very big boys.
The main upside of the chat is that Uber is very interested in getting into the Canberra market, they’re very well attuned to the wider community’s unhappiness with current taxi arrangements, but they want to see how Andrew Barr’s taxi industry consultation process works out.
I was led to believe Uber is planning to make a humdinger of a submission some time shortly before the consultation closes on June 29.
For those who haven’t heard of Uber it is a wildly popular, but highly disruptive, transport service (they hate the word “taxi”).
Working from mobile phone apps, a customer tells their phone they want to go somewhere, nearby drivers are asked if they want the job and are dispatched.
On the phone, the customer can see where the taxi is (something Canberra Cabs have also implemented pretty well), Uber decides what the fare should be and bills the customer’s credit card cutting out arguments and payments.
The crucial final step is the customer can rate the driver, and the driver can rate the customer.
A driver who consistently upsets customers is removed from the program. Just imagine a driver who cared what you thought about their overpowering aftershave or taste in loud radio.
Customers and drivers all over the world, given a chance, have voted decisively with their feet.
Drivers keep a bigger cut of the fare, customers pay around a third less in fares. Drivers are also not locked into 12-hour shifts, they can work just the hours they want.
It’s win-win unless you’ve spent the price of an apartment on a taxi licence, so expect some vociferous opposition from the incumbents.
Uber heavily tout the ability of drivers to work it as a second job to make some extra money.
Aside from Uber, if one watches the eddies on Facebook closely there’s already ad hoc versions of this forming.
Posts to friendship groups (which often number in the thousands) along the lines of: “Can anyone drive me around for some errands in West Belconnen this afternoon? There’s a slab of Woodstock and Cola in it for you.”
It does, however, give one pause for thought. When did we become so impoverished as a people that we need to leverage our underutilised assets and leisure time to make ends meet?
Within living memory, a high-school graduate with reasonable punctuality could make a wage that would allow for home ownership, supporting a family, and a spouse at home, with the weekends free.
Now we’re selling our car’s miles and our hours to a multinational company, thinking about renting out the spare room on AirBnB and everyone in the family who can draw a wage is working all hours.
But we all have to keep running, otherwise we’ll be left behind.
It’s not Uber’s fault, but one has to wonder where we’re going with it all.