A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work - those were the days my friend ...

When I started driving a cab full-time back in 1996 I would on average take home around $10 an hour after expenses. We didn’t have GST in those days. Today, 20 years later, there are still full-time cabbies who make only $10 an hour. The other day a cabbie wrote on a Telegram forum that it’s time we start bashing a few UberX drivers. I understand his frustration, but what a mindless suggestion. We already have enough problems getting public sympathy. Our anger should be directed at the political establishment, the ridesharing companies and the taxi industry mafia.

by  Peer Lindholdt

This month goCatch ran a promotion for its fledgling Sydney ‘rideshare’ service goCar - $5 off every ride in October. How could I resist? I booked a goCar at lunchtime on a Friday to take me from Paddington to Double Bay, a 1km trip.

It took less than a minute before a driver accepted the booking. His name was Usman. Then he phoned me. “I’m going to be about 17 minutes, is that OK?” As I was in no particular hurry I said “Fine” and watched him on my iPhone making his way all the way from Darlinghurst, a trip of about 3km. He made it on time.

Usman, as it turned out, was one of Malcolm Turnbull’s new age gig-economy agile, creative entrepreneurs. He told me he was a freelance fashion designer working from home and drove ride-share using both Uber and goCatch in his spare time.

I know it’s rude to ask people how much they earn, but hey, it’s my job to ask such questions. Without flinching he replied, “About $1,800 a week driving 40 hours”. That equates to $45 an hour. How cool is that?

My booking, from the moment Usman accepted it to the time he dropped me off, took him 30 minutes, 17 of which were ‘dead-running’. The fare was $8.00 - the minimum fare for a short trip. goCatch takes 15% ($1.20 in this case) off the top, which left $6.80. Then another 10% for GST ($0.62). Those left Usman with $6.18 for half an hour’s work less expenses. Had it been an UberX booking he would have earned even less, as Uber takes 25%. That’s an awful long way from $45 an hour. With my $5.00 discount, the trip cost me $3.00. Now, that’s real cool!

The fact is that doing a 10km fare, from pick-up to drop-off, whether a taxi or ‘ride-share’, takes at least 20 minute in normal city traffic. At off-peak rates, which are in force 80% of the time, a 10km fare would average $23 with UberX or goCatch and $28 with a taxi. As peaks and troughs in demand are the same for both types of service driver profit would be pretty much the same despite Uber’s surge pricing and our monopoly on rank and hail. However, as P2P drivers you have fewer rights than a trolley collector at Coles, a delivery driver for Dominos or a shop assistant at 7Eleven, and you are likely to earn less than they do.

At the same time as our state governments rushed to legalise ridesharing, thus creating a new class of working poor, our federal government rushed to set up the Migrant Workers Taskforce to protect visa holders against exploitation. Heading the taskforce is no other than Professor Allan Fels, the renowned neoliberal economist who fucked up the Victorian taxi industry before becoming a director of Uber Technologies in the US last May. I hope the irony doesn’t escape you. 

In a recent interview with The Daily Review, playwright David Williamson mused that most of our world leaders are “reptilian brained psychopaths”. He should have included neoliberal economists in that definition. For the past 20 years they have been infiltrating Western governments directing their economic policies to the point of near bankruptcy. The GFC was just a test run. It's all about 'trickle down' economics, making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

The scramble to legalise ridesharing in Australia was not about bringing P2P transport into the 21st century and providing consumers with faster, cheaper service, it was all about preventing widespread civil unrest and riots due to exploding unemployment caused by governments adopting neoliberal economic theory.

Just take the car industry. In early 2014, the Productivity Commission estimated that the end of local car manufacturing would cost a staggering 200,000 jobs across the nation, fanning fears of an unemployment crisis and a possible recession. It is estimated that 1/3 will be unable to find another job. That’s 70,000 unemployed workers, all with a late-model car, who can now choose to drive UberX rather than spending idle time getting pissed in their local pub. Some of them might even have a go as cabbies. Owner-drivers of course.

However, the latest forecasts from some economists paint a less troubling picture of future employment trends in Australia.

“There is going to be enough growth in a whole lot of other industries ... in services, education, health, tourism, accommodation, and that should more than offset the aggregate level of job losses coming out of the car closures,” A senior CBA economist said.

Another “reptilian brained psychopath”. We already have an oversupply of baristas whilst other manufacturing jobs are disappearing fast. With an even bigger GFC looming there ain’t gonna be any growth in anything except unemployment and underemployment. These same economists predict that by 2020, 40% of the Australian workforce will be private contractors. That means no holiday pay, no penalty rates, no super and no job security. Welcome to the 21st century, the age of a new type of slave-worker.  •

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OZ Cabbie February 2017

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