I am on the edge of twenty-two with a learner’s permit still expiring away in my wallet because I’m a moron who can’t drive. We all know that anyone living in the chunk of outer eastern ‘burbs cruelly devoid of train development does not make it this far into license-less-ness without becoming a hoe for Uber.
When Uber arrived in Australia, it truly was one of the best things to ever happen to me. Back in those days, Nightrider buses didn’t exist in my area, and goddess knows I couldn’t afford to chin $70+ to get home. As the arrogant white male driver who only once or thrice mentioned he was 2017’s Best Driver in Melbourne told me, the concept of UberX is to feel like you’re getting a lift from a friend. In the beginning, it did feel that way. I could talk about anything and everything with my new ‘friends’ (plus, a five-star rating doesn’t maintain itself). I’d even regret not getting their number so we could talk about what we thought of the movies we recommended each other.
Nowadays, Melbourne is always crawling with nice folks using Uber to make some convenient coin. But as pretty much any driver will tell you, Uber is taking nice advantage of all of this, now gobbling up to 25 percent of every fare. Drivers have to work harder and longer for a company that doesn’t give a hick heck about providing them with job security, superannuation, and any kind of coverage should they become unable to work. Not to mention they palm off most costs of the most essential part of the service — the actual car — to the driver, which is nice and convenient given it’s an expensive, ever-depreciating asset that they have to provide themselves.
As much as I have tried to avoid the glaring realization, being taken advantage of is becoming a new motif of my Uber experiences. I now get drivers wringing the system of its loopholes to make back some of what Uber is taking from them. Recently, I had two back-to-back experiences that had me especially huffing and puffing.
On Good Friday, the usual bus I take to get to my connecting bus to the city was not running, so I had to take an Uber to the bus interchange. I gave myself ample time to get there, but there also wasn’t heaps of room for error given that buses were running once every hour. The app did its usual thang of notifying me that my Uber had arrived, and that the driver would wait two minutes before I would start being charged. I went out immediately, getting antsier as the minutes ticked away with no driver to be seen and the scheduled bus time nearing.
Eventually, I found him parked halfway up my (very steep) street. I let myself in with a friendly “hello!”, only to be grunted at as he kept texting. I waited, before tentatively mentioning that I was ready to go when he was. No response. Then eventually, “I’m in a bit of a hurry”, to which he finally snapped that he had been waiting ten, fifteen minutes. Which was impossible given that I’d called him in less than ten, but as a solo girl travelling I don’t feel that safe getting into confrontations with male drivers whilst I’m in the car. All I could do was sit and think about how excited I was to rate him 1/5 while he continued to furiously TEXT AND DRIVE, RISKING BOTH OF OUR LIVES! Which I so did, once I just made my bus.
The next night, I again was in a situation to call an Uber. Again, the notification rolled in that he had arrived, even though he was a no-show. He called to tell us that so sorry, he had a flat tyre and would cancel the trip. Fair enough — but cancel he did not, so we started to get charged, and were faced with the prospect of paying to cancel. Something didn’t smell right, and sure enough, we found him around the block sitting in his car having a hell of a one-man party, with four perfectly pumped tyres.
Fuelled with the just-do-it attitude of 2:30AM, we knocked on his window and asked him to cancel the trip as promised. He claimed he couldn’t; the app wasn’t working. “Yeah okay, show me,” I said, “or let me try it for you,” possessed with the ludicrous idea that he might actually hand over his phone. Surprise surprise, he declined my offer. My riding companion casually mentioned that his tyres were also looking particularly un-flat tonight. He then started mansplaining how he is under no obligation to prove or explain anything to us. Fine mate, but cancel our ride and stop taking our money on a Saturday night with Uber’s extra public holiday surcharges as we speak? The story ends that he called a pal to tell them he was on his way, repeated again that his app was ‘broken’, then sped away.
My driver-passenger relationships used to always be so symbiotic. There are drivers out there like students in demanding degrees who can’t commit to part time work, but can work around their study timetable by hopping in the car whenever suits. And others like the driver I met recovering from an injury that made him unable to work his usual job for a year, or the cute old man looking for conversation in retirement. And there are idiot passengers like me who can’t drive, needing to get places that sometimes can only be reached in a safe or timely manner by car. Is it so much to ask that the company connecting us doesn’t take advantage of us?