by Wendy Squires
How can I forget all those drivers who didn’t know where the airport is?
Dear taxi industry,
Well, aren’t you in a right pickle? Guess you’re feeling a little dark at the moment, huh? Like the world is against you and you can’t win a trick? Well, here’s a tip: you deserve everything you are getting – and more.
You are a disgrace of an institution – an abomination. I am at a loss to find any organisation in my lifetime that has been so lacking in efficiency, customer relations and accountability as yours. You have treated me like poo on a shoe over the years and I would be surprised if there is an Australian taxi-using citizen who doesn’t feel the same way.
Is it any wonder we are all using Uber instead of being victims of the monopoly you have held for so long? Ah yes, the U word, the company you complain is unfair. To an extent you are right: Uber drivers aren’t adhering to driver conduct policies, fatigue management codes, special needs facilities, routine roadworthiness checks, zero blood alcohol rules and criminal history checks. Nor, it would seem, is Uber paying appropriate tax (the Australian Tax Office recently announced Uber X drivers will need to collect and pay GST).
I agree I should sympathise with taxi operators who forked out on expensive registration plates while Uber X drivers don’t. However, again I say look at yourself, taxi industry, and acknowledge you failed these drivers by failing to keep up with technology and customer demands.
And yes, I am aware the alternative service is illegal. So call me a law-breaker, because I swear I will never go back regardless. And why the hell should I?
Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we? In my decades as a cab user I have experienced a driver who not-so-subtly asked if I wanted to pay the fare in money or sex. How can I forget all those drivers who didn’t know where the airport is, who got lost and then expected me to navigate for them, who didn’t have a sat-nav in the car and if they did, couldn’t spell or type the most simple suburb or street name. The drivers who, upon arrival, never had change for a large note or, if they had EPOS, were out of paper or couldn’t work the damn thing.
Then there’s the general discourtesy: the gag-worthy body odour, the grunts rather than words, the loud radio blaring, the phone calls that took hands off steering wheels, and the unprovoked and unwelcome questions and comments.
But these drivers are like June Dally Watkins in comparison to the "service operators" I’ve experienced back at base. I’d like to give a one-finger thanks-for-nothing to the operator who answered my query as to why a pre-booked cab to the airport never arrived with "What do you want me to do about it?" Which reminds me about the wheelchair-access-equipped cab, which never turned up to take my gravely ill stepfather to hospital, causing me to get a costly ambulance, which could have been better used.
But mostly I want to say damn you for making me, an otherwise independent woman, feel so unsafe and vulnerable for so long. I’m talking about leaving me standing on dark streets late at night waiting for a car supposedly "on its way" (via where? Uzbekistan?). Thanks for favouring the rank jumper. Thanks for showing the licence photo of the car’s supposed driver – often a different race than the person behind the wheel. Thanks for having your vacant light on and driving straight on by. Thanks for stopping, then rejecting my destination because you’re not heading in that direction. Thanks for letting me haul my heavy suitcase into the boot rather than getting out to help me. Thanks for charging like a wounded bull. Thanks for making me share my cab with others then insisting I pay the full fare. Basically, thanks for nothing.
Nope, I don’t care how controversial or disruptive or legally dubious Uber is, I will never go back to taxis. Instead, I shall watch the app that shows my driver’s car arriving, meaning I need only step out upon arrival. I shall rate every driver, thus giving me some recourse for complaint or retrieval of personal items. I shall continue to send friends home knowing their fare will be paid on my credit card and I will receive a texted receipt acknowledging they have arrived safely. I will continue to enjoy the assurance of having my driver’s name, photo, car registration and contact details at hand.
And I will continue to enjoy not giving another cent to an industry that’s had it too good for too long.
Saturday Age columnist Wendy Squires is a journalist, editor and author.