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Speaker: Confessions of an Uber driver

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  • oga, in reply to BenWilson,

    That's a good tip about the fare review. I use my Uber account to book cars for my partner to go to work and back (in Mexico City), so my account has been used twice a day six days a week. About 30% of the time (usually later in the week), we have to use surge pricing, but that tends to be about 10-15 pesos more than the usual 35 peso fare. I'm not complaining because I earn a first-world income in Yen and AUD and that's still less than NZD $5 per trip. I haven't had any bad experiences with Uber, but I do note that sometimes the surge drivers take the long way around instead of the direct route marked on the app. I suspect that sometimes this is because of local knowledge, e.g., roadworks, but I think that 80% of the time the driver is just taking the piss and adding the pesos to the fare. So I'll tell my partner about the fare review option. Thanks! Do you have the complimentary bottle of water thing in NZ? I'm paranoid about that here in Mexico. It seems that drivers could fuck with the water (lace it with drugs, etc). While we do have the reassurance of knowing everything about drivers, I am still not sure that it's entirely safe to be giving out water nilly willy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to oga,

    Do you have the complimentary bottle of water thing in NZ?

    I do it myself, but there's no Uber policy about it. My wife talked me out of being el cheapo and just filling used bottles myself, so I buy them in bulk as a deductible expense. Surprisingly few people take up the offer, but those who do are usually extremely appreciative. It's a very low cost way of improving the ride experience.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    Ben explaining all this on Radio NZ's Nine to Noon right now. So multi-media!

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3203 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    How do we link that?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    Up now. That was very interesting. Good to hear your audible voice (as opposed to the written one)

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/201798845/transport-agency-warns-uber-drivers-could-be-breaking-law

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3203 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie,

    This discussion is slightly academic to me as I live in Dunedin and Uber doesn’t operate here, yet. But I was upset when I heard that the government appears to be effectively fucking over thousands of local taxi drivers in an effort to please an international business.

    I must confess to having a slight connection to this story. My Dad was a taxi driver when I was a little guy, and my partner obtained her taxi license some years ago along with the requisite local area knowledge certificate, plus TSL and P-endorsements. Even though she has a clean record, it was the Police check which took forever, around 8 weeks from memory. In total she spend around 12 weeks and $1,500 to become certified.

    The vehicles she drove were all required to have a COF, guaranteeing passengers that they had been held to a higher standard than normal WOFs. This is as it should be when you’re carrying passengers for reward and safety is a priority.

    Last year people began offering cheap rides in Dunedin via a local Facebook group. The Police eventually cracked down on the practice when it was revealed that one of the “drivers” was awaiting trial for killing two people in a motor vehicle accident, and had been driving an unregistered and unwarranted vehicle at the time. I believe that guy is now serving jail time.

    I’m sure Uber has some good drivers, but when they can offer to make people instant taxi drivers for just $25 with few safety checks and no compliance to the existing law, something smells bad.

    The taxi drivers I know all paid between $20k and $50k to buy into their business. That’s quite an investment which takes years to pay off. If the government allows Uber to operate illegally, it’s the equivalent of sticking a big bureaucratic finger in the faces of thousands of registered NZ taxi drivers. Their investment in their business just went down the tube.

    Uber needs to be pulled up on this. Now.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1386 posts Report Reply

  • Erin,

    Re Uber Assist – do you know if there are any plans for Uber to become part of the Total Mobility scheme?
    I am a wheelchair user myself who would consider using Uber but given I can get 50% off using taxi companies, it doesn’t really seem worth my while. The lowering of safety standards is another de-motivator.
    Were Uber to ever introduce a mobility van service, however, I would ditch taxi companies completely unless I was going somewhere which could only accommodate a regular wheelchair (I mostly use a power wheelchair to get around). The availability of taxi mobility vans is so limited, I have missed multiple meetings, had to turn up 2 hours early just to be able to get one, or been waiting over an hour for pickup…

    Since May 2013 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to Erin,

    I would ditch taxi companies completely unless I was going somewhere which could only accommodate a regular wheelchair (I mostly use a power wheelchair to get around). The availability of taxi mobility vans is so limited,

    ...and even for those lucky enough to have their own accessible vehicle, there can be
    significant delays in organising alternate transport for those in power chairs if things go tits up.

    We have a hoist in our Bus...but even if we had known Bryce was in strife (we were in the area at the time) we could not offer help as our hoist can not handle the weight of a power chair.

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1344 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    While I do love the Uber experience, a lot of things I've read (thanks for that post from the Guardian), make me more lukewarm to corporate Uber.

    And then to wonder whether Uber themselves may be disrupted. Perth is trialling small self-driving electric buses, and the company that builds them already has the app technology which enables them to come to you rather than you going to a conventional bus stop, as long as you are more or less on the route.
    http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/driverless-electric-shuttle-bus-to-be-tested-on-perth-roads/news-story/ea54c6ddd20319ac1c8fe62ee7d0376c

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace, in reply to Erin,

    There is a specialist wheelchair taxi service in Wellington consisting of one man and a van. I think most of his work is via Total Mobility. He is very nice and helpful and gets to know his regular clients and their particularly needs. This is a good model for a Wellington-sized city.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3203 posts Report Reply

  • Angela Hart, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    I'm jealous of these guys ability to get around on a beach. They are so lucky! Thanks ACC.

    Christchurch • Since Apr 2014 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie,

    You've certainly stirred things up Ben. The NZTA has just announced that it will prosecute individuals who do not hold a P licence.

    While Uber drivers operating without a passenger endorsement could face a $10,000 fine, the spokesman said the NZTA wasn't currently taking legal action against the company itself.

    Why not? It's the company that's encouraging its contractors to break the law, not the drivers themselves. It's time for the NZTA to grow some balls and challenge Uber over this issue.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1386 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    Thanks Hilary...been flat out on my non-Uber life for a couple of hours. Will try to address questions for a bit.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I wonder if they've considered introducing another specialised service for those of us who miss the 160kph+ antics of European taxi drivers. UberFast (TM) would require drivers to provide a suitably hopped up vehicle (Subaru WRX, BMW M3, that sort of thing) and treat any speed limits as a minimum guideline. Doughnuts would be performed on passenger demand.

    Ok, this would also be illegal, but yeah, whatever...

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Alfie,

    The NZTA has just announced that it will prosecute individuals who do not hold a P licence.

    This has been their position all along, of course. As it should be.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Alfie,

    Why not?

    Above my pay grade, that one. Question for NZTA? Or the Minister? Or a lawyer?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Erin,

    Re Uber Assist – do you know if there are any plans for Uber to become part of the Total Mobility scheme?

    I'm not aware, I'm sorry. It would be awesome.

    I am a wheelchair user myself who would consider using Uber but given I can get 50% off using taxi companies, it doesn’t really seem worth my while.

    I can imagine. When the service was first announced, I did not expect high demand for it. So far, I'm still to give a ride to an actually disabled person. The service, however, doesn't require you to be disabled. It's entirely opt-in, and could be used by anyone who anticipates having higher needs. This could just be a mum with a couple of kids and some shopping, who is worried a driver might be unsympathetic to the difficulties associated.

    Or, which may have happened to me last night (I'm not sure, it only occurred to me afterward), a rider who had the ride called for her by her mother. I thought it was probably a mistake and told her how to disable the option in the app if so. But on reflection I couldn't be sure that the mother hadn't specifically chosen uberASSIST. The rider could have been much younger than she looked, could have been a minor. The business of calling me in remotely like that does involve a non-vanilla pickup, and perhaps the worry is that a normal Uber driver would possibly have cancelled the trip off.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Alfie,

    I’m sure Uber has some good drivers, but when they can offer to make people instant taxi drivers for just $25 with few safety checks and no compliance to the existing law, something smells bad.

    I have to reiterate, that until Thursday, most Uber drivers (outside of Christchurch) were very compliant to the law.*

    The taxi drivers I know all paid between $20k and $50k to buy into their business. That’s quite an investment which takes years to pay off. If the government allows Uber to operate illegally, it’s the equivalent of sticking a big bureaucratic finger in the faces of thousands of registered NZ taxi drivers. Their investment in their business just went down the tube.

    On this one, I have to say I’m not so sure. That $20-50k was not compliance costs, it was pure profit to the taxi empire they were buying into. Uber having broken that up is not something I personally lament. I’m sorry for any driver who did it recently, of course, because it was a bad investment.

    *ETA: Also, most Uber drivers in Auckland and Wellington are still compliant to the law. This could change rapidly.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie, in reply to BenWilson,

    That $20-50k was not compliance costs, it was pure profit to the taxi empire they were buying into.

    This may be different in Auckland where the company may own all of the cars and merely employ drivers, but it’s not correct for the taxi drivers of my acquaintance, Ben. In Dunedin and Queenstown the money goes straight to the former (usually retiring) driver who is selling his shares in the business, sometimes including a car, but not always.

    Down this way the taxi company is jointly owned by the drivers who pay a weekly fee which covers the company overheads.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1386 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Alfie,

    OK, I'll amend my statement to simply "it's not a compliance cost". It's buying the goodwill of a business, and an asset (the car) too. I don't count buying my car as a compliance cost. To set up a transport service, all you need is a Transport Service License. Then you'd have to advertise, have a call center, radios, find staff, take out insurance, etc. All those costs associated with running a business. But a business that literally doesn't need all that because it's organized in the extremely efficient way that Uber is should certainly be able to outcompete the older way. It's not like there's never been an opportunity for the existing massive taxi groups to write their own app, and lower their own costs to entry to new drivers. Something a bit better than the purportedly awful one that they did write.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie,

    I’m agreeing with you Ben and I didn’t suggest the purchase of shares was a compliance cost. I was making the point that taxi drivers do have to front up with this sort of money to buy into their business, and if the NZTA turns a blind eye to Uber’s latest illegal antics, then you’d have to say that any traditional taxi business will be rooted.

    And BTW, I commend you for going public with this.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1386 posts Report Reply

  • Katita,

    Thanks for the post Ben, it makes really interesting reading. I worked (many a year ago now) at the Ministry of Transport in the division that licenced and enforced taxi companies/ operators. Believe it or not I used to attend Tribunal hearings where those buying into the business had to front up with lawyers and present evidence that they met the criteria of 'fit and proper'. At that time there were a capped number of operator licences available (of course that all changed under de-regulation in the late 80's).
    I'm not an Uber user, these days most of my cab rides are to and from the airport booked and paid for by work. On the rare occasions I take and pay for a cab, I only ever choose the big companies. Rightly or wrongly I just feel safer in them at night.
    The other thing I've been wondering about is the concept of disruptive tech vs. parasitic tech. The premise being that these new ventures (Uber and Air BnB) not only have a lower cost of entry, but are attractive to operators due to additional benefits e.g. lower compliance cost, lower taxes etc. However they can cannibalise the market and cause all sorts of unintended consequences. I was listening to an item on RNZ the other week about the Air BnB experience in Barcelona, the net result of which was un-limited accommodation available in the city. Great for tourists (maybe) but these operators weren't paying to support all the other infrastructure that the city requires to cope with hundreds of thousands more visitors.
    It left me pondering when is regulation a good thing and when should convenience trump all?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 66 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    The taxi drivers I know all paid between $20k and $50k to buy into their business. That’s quite an investment which takes years to pay off. If the government allows Uber to operate illegally, it’s the equivalent of sticking a big bureaucratic finger in the faces of thousands of registered NZ taxi drivers. Their investment in their business just went down the tube.

    On this one, I have to say I’m not so sure. That $20-50k was not compliance costs, it was pure profit to the taxi empire they were buying into. Uber having broken that up is not something I personally lament. I’m sorry for any driver who did it recently, of course, because it was a bad investment.

    In theory, Co-op drivers get many costs covered by virtue of buying in. They also get Co-op competing against them via the various budget brands it also owns, which seems shitty.

    Still, at least it’s not the madness they’ve seen in Australia. Government policy changes and competition from Uber have finally forced down the price of a taxi licence in Australia – to a mere $375,000. It’s been a disgraceful situation up till now – license owners haven’t even needed to drive, just sit back and be rent-takers.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie, in reply to Katita,

    I was listening to an item on RNZ the other week about the Air BnB experience in Barcelona, the net result of which was un-limited accommodation available in the city.

    Barcelona has suffered more than most cities from the increasing popularity of AirBnB. Thousands of locals have been evicted from their flats to provide tourist accomodation, because owners can earn twice as much from short term lets. This in turn led to the rise of the left wing Podemos Party which won the 2015 mayoral election.

    The new mayor has warned AirBnB that Barcelona is not a theme park and asked such rental websites to hand over information on the property owners who use their service.

    Any city that sacrifices itself on the altar of mass tourism will be abandoned by its people when they can no longer afford the cost of housing, food and basic everyday needs.

    An almost identical scenario is playing out in Queenstown these days.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1386 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Alfie,

    Until the '70s and the building of ski resorts, Queenstown was a village of 1,000 or so people. Tourism is it's industry and reason to exist.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

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