Uber

Eldercare and the wonder that’s Uber

Looking after elderly parents, or parent in-laws, suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia or Parkinson’s, can be a difficult task, especially when it’s their wish to remain in their own home, rather than move into residential care.

Thankfully, these days awareness, resources and support are plentiful, and home care is increasingly viable.

Despite the availability of a wide range of help and support, from time to time you can still find yourself caught out with that random medical appointment you need to get them to, but you just can’t get away from work, and you also strike out on booking formal assistance.

My partner and I have been there!

Don’t even bother trying to arrange a taxi for them. Too unreliable – we have been there too. You will be lucky if they turn up in the first place – and don’t think a booking is going to help you. Even if they turn up, you will be lucky if they know where Prince of Wales Hospital is. Even if they know where Prince of Wales Hospital is, you will be lucky not to ‘fear for the lives’ of your parents, or parent in-laws, during their trip …

For elderly people with cognitive illnesses and physical ailments, Sydney’s taxi ‘service’ is utterly unreliable and unsuitable. Perhaps that’s because even we find Sydney’s taxi ‘service’ utterly unreliable and unsuitable.

Uber

UberUber* to the rescue.

While the taxi industry has been whipping up a lot of controversy around Uber generally, the reality is that it is a superior service in every way.

We have used Uber’s Black service for close to three years now, and we are yet to have an even remotely unsatisfactory experience.

Our Uber car always turns up on time. Our Uber car is always immaculate. Our Uber driver is always courteous. Our Uber driver is always helpful.

And when we arrive at our destination, we just say goodbye to our driver, get out of the car and our credit card is charged for the fare automatically, with a receipt immediately available in the Uber App and also hitting our inbox.

Innovative, convenient, efficient.

When it comes to fares, even the Black service compares favourably with Sydney’s taxi prices. In our experience, depending on the distance, it attracts a premium of around 20-30%, not allowing for surge pricing, but the service it provides justifies that price-differential.

Uber also has an excellent track-record in providing transport services to our elderly parents and parent in-laws.

Say, there is a medical appointment at a hospital and we are stuck at work, and haven’t been able to arrange other help:

  • we simply order an Uber for them via the iPhone App;
  • once a driver accepts, which usually takes only about 5 minutes, we text him details and instructions regarding the relevant medical conditions, including the need to transport a fold-up wheelchair;
  • the driver will promptly arrive, help them into the car and take care of the wheelchair;
  • the driver will take them to the hospital, help them out of the car and to the building;
  • the fare is conveniently and automatically charged to our credit card; and
  • repeat for the trip home, after the appointment is over.

It’s a breeze and we have the satisfaction of knowing our parents, or parent in-laws, are in reliable, capable and helping hands for their transport needs, with the drivers calling us immediately if there are any issues.

UberX

UberX, a ‘ride-sharing’ service that links passengers with private drivers, is a more recent and far more controversial offering from Uber. The taxi industry is not a fan, and insists the service is illegal. It argues their highly regulated industry can’t fairly compete with an illegal and unregulated service. The industry has also questioned the safety of UberX.

Arguably, Uber itself doesn’t break the law by offering the service through the App. Consumers using the service are also likely to be in the clear legally.

However, the NSW Parliamentary Research service supports the view that UberX drivers transporting passengers for a fare are on shaky legal ground, because the practice is prohibited in NSW under the provisions of the Passenger Transport Act 1990 (NSW), which requires taxi and hire car services to be run through licensed operators.

In Victoria, a legal first is unfolding as an UberX driver, Nathan Brenner, faces court in a test case, probing the legality of the service. He was caught in a Victorian Taxi Services Commission (TSC) sting operation aimed at ride-sharing service UberX.

He was first charged with breaching section 158(1) of the Transport (Compliance Miscellaneous) Act 1983 (Vic), which makes it an offence to operate a commercial passenger vehicle without a licence, permit, or other authority. The TSC later added further charges, including breach of s165(1), which makes it an offence to drive a commercial passenger vehicle without accreditation. The new charges add up to a potential total fine of close to $25,000.

Yesterday, Uber lost its bid to have the case thrown out of court, as Magistrate Ayres rejected the submission that the TSC had acted illegally in collecting its evidence. A trial has now been ordered to start on 9 October, so watch this space.

Uber’s Black service doesn’t face this issue, as the hire cars used in that category of service are operated by licensed drivers in compliance with the relevant laws and regulations.

Uber also recently introduced, to their more controversial ‘ride-sharing’ UberX fleet, what they call ‘uberASSIST‘, a fantastic service aimed at people with accessibility needs:

uberASSIST is designed to provide additional assistance for members of the community with different accessibility needs. With uberASSIST, our top driver-partners receive specific training on the necessary knowledge and safety requirements of people with different accessibility needs and can accommodate folding wheelchairs, walkers, and collapsible scooters.

Ridesharing
An incredibly misleading billboard campaign by the New South Wales Taxi Council

The taxi industry does no favours for itself by stooping to baseless fear-mongering. In any event, we never had a worry in an Uber Black or UberX car, but have ‘feared for our lives’ in taxis many-many times, either due to the condition of the car, or the behaviour of the driver.

Uber takes a number of steps to ensure rider safety:

  • drivers must be at least 21 years of age and are required to undergo criminal background and driver history checks provided by the Australian Federal Police and State transport authorities;
  • all cars must be a four-door model, no older than nine years and are inspected by a qualified third-party vehicle inspection company;
  • customers are provided with the driver’s name, photo, vehicle information and contact details within the App;
  • all drivers must have a current policy of compulsory third-party and third-party property insurance and, in addition, every trip is covered by a $5m commercial insurance policy taken out by Uber; and
  • a record of the trip, which is tracked on GPS in its entirety, is kept;

Anecdotal evidence that brings into question the safety of both taxis and UberX type services is easily locatable online. But there is no independent, verifiable source of information that would facilitate a reliable comparison of the safety of these services.

CHOICE, Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group, has recently looked at comparing taxis and the UberX service and found the assertions made by the taxi industry don’t hold up.

CHOICE compared 28 taxi rides to the same number of trips using UberX. CHOICE’s findings reflected our own experiences:

  • UberX was cheaper than a taxi around nine times out of ten, and taxis were 40% more expensive than UberX on average;
  • only on three occasions was UberX more expensive than a taxi, but not by much, and only because surge-pricing was in place;
  • when taxis were booked, they tended to take longer to show up than UberX, and there were two times taxis didn’t show up at all; and
  • taxis scored an average of 6.7 for the overall user experience, with UberX scoring an average of 8.3.

The higher taxi prices are largely attributable to the current regulatory environment which has created a virtual monopoly by investor-owners of valuable taxi licenses, and the exploitation of many drivers who often earn hourly rates below the minimum wage.

CHOICE’s position is that regulations should apply equally to taxi services and to Uber – but the point of regulating should be to protect consumers and encourage competition in the market, not to protect one particular business from its competitors.
UberX vs taxi comparison review, CHOICE (24 September 2015)

The fact is consumers have spoken, the share economy is embedded in the future of the economy, and governments must take appropriate steps to recognise economic innovation and progress and accept the presence, and the reality, of services such as Uber and Airbnb.

We should not be subjecting innovative, 21st century challengers to 20th century monopolistic regulations that failed to provide efficient and consumer-friendly services in the first place.

Instead we should be creating a flexible new regulatory framework that is suitable for the future, and supports innovation and the delivery of consumer-focused services, while ensuring that international technology outfits operating in Australia also pay their fair share of company tax and contribute to the nation’s economic wellbeing.


* We are long-term customers of Uber, but have no commercial relationship or any other arrangement, connection or relationship with the company.

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