Griffiths / Uber delivers, despite the smell

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AND so the great day has dawned and Uber has arrived in Canberra.

John Griffiths.
John Griffiths.
It’s agile, it’s disruptive, it’s modern.

Sad to say, having caught two Uber cars in the last week I can also say it’s somewhat smellier than catching a taxi.

That might be to do with the one driver continuously occupying the one vehicle and possibly to do with a bit of inexperience.

However, it is definitely the 30 per cent cheaper than a taxi we were promised.

Emerging from the kerfuffle was that taxi licence owners were a rentier class, pulling in tens of thousands of dollars a year from the actual operators without putting any work in at all.

Those of us who have wondered why taxis in Canberra were so bad at least now have some sort of reason why.

To be honest the Uber software is not dramatically better than using the “book and track” mobile website application Canberra Cabs has brought out.

The difference is about what you’d expect between a company (Uber) worth billions of dollars and a local company worth mere millions.

The local offering does 80 per cent of the job. But the extra sparkle and polish of the Uber app is evident.

For a start, it shows you where all the cars are in your vicinity in real time even before booking them.

Once a car has taken your ride there’s a second-by-second depiction of its journey to collect you.

Then there’s the joy of Uber taking care of the payments.

When your car pulls up at your destination it’s a simple matter of thanking the driver for their efforts and stepping out.

Moments later Uber emails you what they’ve determined your fare to have been and asks you to rate your driver.

Perhaps not that much better than paywaving a card in a taxi, but much less friction.

One of the drivers I spoke to was pretty happy with it all and seemed to have been busy, making over $300 on a Saturday night.

At the same time, for my ride he’d spent 15 minutes getting to me, and nearly as long taking me to my destination for an $11 fare.

According to Google, Uber takes a dollar off the top and then 20 per cent, so half an hour’s work netted him $8 before tax and super.

The next day though, I tried something else. I jumped on the bus.

It’s true I’m lucky to have a bus that runs between my front door and the palatial offices of “CityNews”, but most inner-city residents who work in Civic share in this fortune.

The MyBus app informed me there was a bus coming in four minutes, I grabbed my bag and scooted out the door and waited about 60 seconds until the bus hove into view.

With a MyWay card the bus cost $2.91 and took roughly the same amount of time as the Uber car.

(It is worth noting the bus smelt significantly better than either of the Uber cars I took.)

So for a single person (I note that the equations for families or even couples are utterly different) the bus when convenient is, since the advent of Google maps and real-time bus tracking on nxtbus and MyBus, better still.

Which does have me thinking, and thinking deeply. As an Inner Northican I make most of my trips by bicycle. The car is mostly for a weekly big shop and the rare rainy day.

But a car costs at the very minimum a couple of thousand dollars a year to run.

Let’s assume a $10 fare each way to do the weekly shopping. $20 a week, works out around a grand.

That’s before we even start to think about the cost of parking.

It might be time to sell the car before everyone else starts thinking the same thing.

John Griffiths is the online editor of

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