How to be an UBER driver (in three easy steps)


Yes, I am an UBER driver. There’s no shame in admitting it. When you’ve been seeking full-time employment for 12 months and the market flatly rejects what you have to offer, you’ll take anything that comes to hand. At 46, I like to think I’m in pretty good shape, but  getting a gig in the IPL as a 20/20 cricketer is a dream I need to let go, so… welcome to UBER!

The attraction is pretty straight forward. We need money, we have a car, I’m a very good driver. That last qualifier may be open to subjection, but the first two are undeniable. As it pans out, it works like a dream. There is no roster to adhere to, no supervisor, no meetings to attend. You switch on and switch off whenever. This fits perfectly with our matrix of one full-time working parent, and two full on primary school boys with a social calendar that would be the envy of less notable European royalty. When all the ducks are aligned, I walk out the front door, shake out the floor mats, wash off the most offensive of the bird poo, and hit the streets.

I have to admit, I had some reservations. If you research the world according to Google you will find many colourful examples of the business practices of UBER. Let’s not be squeamish, it’s been ruthless in attaining its success. What would it be like working with an organisation at the very forefront of disrupting the technological and transportation status quo? Surprisingly easy as it turns out. Not only do they provide you with the cashless smart phone platform that allows you to work, but a support structure that solves all of your problems by email or text with a patient, kind and cheery disposition. Damn their seductive wiles.

Step one to being an UBER driver is to drive with zen like composure. When I consider how often my children have witnessed the delivery of expletive laden thoughts to my fellow road users, they would be surprised at the transformation of Daddy’s attitude when paying riders are in the car. I think any anxiety I would usually feel in traffic (i.e. being late, lost or hosing down a battle to the death in the back seat between my offspring), is transferred wholly to the rider I’ve picked up. I have no emotional involvement in the journey. That said, it brings joy to my heart when a rider jumps in and says “I’m late, go as fast as you can” (I imagine a tearful reunion at the airport as one lover stops the other walking through the departure gate and leaving forever – although typically its to start a shift at a fast food franchise) . My private-eye/noir dreams will be fulfilled when someone jumps in and shouts “follow that car!”

The challenge with driving safely in Melbourne is that the roads don’t seem to be intentionally designed to achieve this. Usually when you drive, you drive from point A’s to point B’s, repeat, repeat, repeat. You learn and remember the idiosyncrasies of that particular route and avoid the pitfalls. Driving for UBER I’ve discovered road signs I didn’t know existed, speed limits that range from 40 to 50 to 60 to 70 to 80 to 100, and which vary at different times of day depending on whether your children are to be run down on the way to, or from school. Its not good enough that traffic lights go from green to orange to red to green, but apparently we need ones that flash orange for a wee while, or have dispensed with the green signal entirely. And bike lanes, WTF! I’m an evangelist of the bike and the benefits of cycle commuting, but we have designed and installed in Melbourne and surrounds a piecemeal bike lane system that seems specifically designed to ensure the greatest number of bike riding casualties. This is only aggravated when someone like me, unfamiliar to a suburb and the local council’s unique solution to funnelling bicycles through it streets, navigates his bleary eyed way through it. Whilst I am yet to collect anyone upon my bonnet, one feels it is only a matter of time.

Step two to being an UBER driver is to navigate using a step-by-step GPS mapping system. This has a profound impact on how your brain works. Again, traditionally, we drive from point A’s to point B’s, and repeat, repeat, repeat. This creates a holistic image within the brain of the route and your spatial orientation – who isn’t familiar with the sensation of arriving home and having zero memory of the actual journey. Auto pilot kicks-in, leaving you free to make a mentally strike off people from your Christmas card list, or the options for dinner. At around the 4 hour hour mark of constant navigating, I can no longer use big words, string a complete sentence together or in an unfamiliar suburb tell the difference between north, south, east or west. But if you allow me to follow Google Maps instructions I can get you where you want to go, in the shortest possible time (mostly nearly always). It’s a modern miracle.

Step three to being an UBER driver is to connect with the human race. Truthfully, I’m not sure this is essential, but what a waste of an opportunity. My passengers have included musical instrument makers to the stars (The Wiggles), professional dancers, former Federal Ministers of Parliament, international shoe designers, famous comedians, hospitality workers by the boat load, lovers breaking up, lovers coming together, hen’s parties causing mayhem, octogenarians using their smart phones and UBER for the first time, doctors, lawyers, students, strip club performers, teachers, childcare workers, dentists, young people on the way to a party, young people on the way home from a party (mum and dad financing the UBER in lieu of doing the driving themselves), mums and dads escaping the children for a night on the town, countless airport runs, people on the way to a job interview or homebound as early morning escapees from one night stands. Every one an opportunity for a story and a conversation. Some people don’t want to talk. We drive quietly and you get to where you need to be. But for every one of these rides I get three more share their hopes and dreams, their musical tastes, their equally crazy children and how hard it is to be a parent, their political views or professional lives. And what a gloriously diverse story it is that Melbourne shares. This for me is the essence of the experience. It’s true value. The transportation just happens as an added bonus.

If all of that is pretty mundane, wrap you’re head around the future. UBER is one of many tech companies planning towards a future of 100% electric, self-driving vehicles. The future is 2030 – thats thirteen years from now. Not only will a drivers licence become obsolete as a rite of passage, but so will car ownership. The vision is that fleets of these vehicles, owned by corporations or collectives (no one is certain what the model will look like to be economically viable) will take you where you need to go so efficiently and at such low cost that it will make no sense to own your own car. The modelling suggests that a worldwide fleet of 50 million of these cars will effectively replace 1 billion vehicles on the road. Instead of driving the 30 minutes to work in your own car, parking it for 8 hours before returning 30 minutes home, the car of the future will be running all day picking up and dropping off riders throughout cities and urban landscapes. The first obvious impact is on travel times and safety with less traffic on the road, the second is the reclaiming of our cities. The roads and carparks no longer required can be returned to green space, housing and other beneficial purposes. Modelling out of the USA identifies as much as 25% of a city could be transformed for these purposes.

If this sounds far fetched, think again. Change can be so gradual, it sneaks up on you. UBER has already convinced large swathes of young people in Melbourne that car ownership is a dud, and many, many families like ours that a second car is equally irrelevant. The future is coming fast.

Notes on freedom for a 6 year old boy

My new years resolution, perhaps the new years resolution, is to get a job. That pays money. As of mid January this hasn’t occurred, so moving quickly onto other options it would also be resolute to contribute to Coburghagen once again.

My posts fell away, as many a progressive cause or much loved celebrity in 2016, but in my case due to a falling out of love with writing. The fall can be directly attributed to committing the most productive hours of the day writing cover letters and responding to key selection criteria. In time the lack of reward for effort begins to wear you down, and before you know it you have stopped writing altogether.

Slapping that kind of negativity in the face is step 1, along with being prescribed thyroxine by my Endocrinologist, before sticking my head up and observing the wonders that have been occurring right in front of my eyes. To wit, my 6 year old known as ‘Breaker’, not as a nod of respect to Mr Morant and his horse skills, but to his propensity to bugger up anything his incredibly strong fingers can get a hold of. Prophetically though, this story is about his ability to break in the saddle of a 20 inch Avanti Shadow, or in layman terms, learn to ride a bike.

For a child in 2016, there are limited opportunities for a meaningful rite of passage. My definition would broadly encapsulate experiences that engender self-belief and worth, and provide a child with a greater perspective of their world. In observing Breaker and his older brother ‘Moaner’ (another literal explanation) the only comparable experience has been watching them learn to swim. In this case young Breaker was slowly convinced by his enlightened and insightful parents that what he really wanted for his birthday was a bike. Forget the iPad and nerf gun, the bike was the biz. Heeding this advice, the first stage in encouraging his love affair was to let him pick the bike he wanted. Having done the basic research and visited the local stores Breaker fell in love with the most expensive option (we’ve all been there). Figuring it was money well spent if he was encouraged to ride, we handed over the credit card, or as explained by Breaker at the till “you’ve got to risk it for the biscuit”, and rode off into the sunset (our local park, with a decent gravel path winding its way in and around the trees and play equipment).

As a parent we all do the “just listen to me” routine. We tell our children exactly what they need to do and they choose to do something else. Day 1 of learning to ride involved me giving intense levels of instruction and feedback before Breaker requested in a pleading voice that I stop shouting at him. Taking that on board, I shut up and just pushed when pushing was requested. This was frequently. The target on day 1 was to complete one lap of the park without stopping, falling or colliding. It was a wobbly, anxiety inducing lap but it was achieved. As a parent I saw Breaker with fresh eyes. So long in the shadow of his older brother, he was far more determined than I had given him credit for. He was simply not going home until a confirmed lap was under the belt. Secondly, he got great personal satisfaction out of his accomplishment, walking at least a foot taller on the way home.

Day 2 was considered by me as an opportunity to consolidate on lap 1, and maybe work on the art of starting and stopping. The end of day 2 saw thirty consecutive laps without a break and a look of pure joy beaming on the face of Breaker. And thats it, 2 days to to learn to ride a bike. Mind boggling. Mind boggling because Breaker immediately saw the potential. A child of small to medium motivation when it came to a suggested walk to the shops was now actively canvassing expeditions to pick up a litre of milk, or the daily ride to school. Looking through his eyes I could revisit what we all appreciate about riding a bike but tend to forget. It’s efficient, it’s fun, it puts you on a level playing field with your big brother, it is the freedom to go wherever you want to go under your own steam, to push beyond your known horizons. And so on the streets of Coburg in 2016, a 6 year old boy discovers the concept of freedom.

The uncomfortable reality is that less and less children are receiving access to an opportunity like this in our car heavy suburbs. Parents are likely too busy or worried to allow their children to ride to school or cruise the streets on the weekend or a warm summer evening. If you can’t experientially encounter a core concept such as freedom in your developing years, how do you grow up to value, advocate and protect it when the world is going pear shaped? In years such as 2016, which throw up more questions than they answer, expanding access to these concepts and experiences for future generations becomes increasingly vital.

Confessions of a Door-knocker

I’ve been non-existent in the blog-o-sphere for a while now, primarily because the time I had set aside has been taken up by my new hobby, federal politics. Not a phrase I expected to be writing either, because generally speaking the state of federal politics in Australia isn’t inspiring, although like a train smash you can’t help but watch it unfold.

I was keen to get a peek at the system from the inside, and when the opportunity came up to join a volunteer program for the only Green’s MP in the federal parliament it was too good a chance to miss. For someone writing a blog based on issues of sustainability supporting the Green’s is pretty much a fait accompli, but having to consciously reflect on why I vote Green, and to then share this reasoning with complete strangers has been a bit of an eye opener. The fact that the current government decided to call an early election and pitch my eager but inexperienced self unexpectedly into a federal campaign was a complete bonus.

Yes ladies and gentleman, I have become one of ‘those’ people. I turn up on your doorstep on a sunny Saturday morning with clip board in hand, and just as you’re starting to think about the options for a fun filled weekend of debauchery and excess, are sidetracked by a super sincere and enthusiastic member of the public enquiring as to your political viewpoint and the issues that matter to you. Unsurprisingly the vast majority of you aren’t home. Hello! There is a federal election happening people, “Keep Calm and Keep at Home” should be your mantra from this point forward, otherwise anyone could get elected in this country, yes I’m looking at you Ricky Muir.


What has most impressed me about the Australian electorate so far is their capacity for quick thinking. I don’t want to give anyone ideas but the range of diversionary tactics has been quite impressive, although the give away is the complete look of horror on your face as you open the door and realise that I am not a welcome friend/lover/pizza delivery. The most audacious approach, and not one I could successfully pull off myself, is to pretend that no one is knocking on the door. There are a surprisingly large amount of audibly active households who ignore the plaintive sound of my door-knocking or bell ringing. Beyond that the time poor explanations are sound but not always supported by visible evidence. If I had a dollar for every person who was ‘just leaving for work’, ‘too busy studying’, ‘on Skype with my family’, or ‘changing the baby’s nappy’ I’d be able to pay my children their pocket money on a more regular basis. In many respects though I appreciate your attempt to let me down easy, as if nothing in the world would have made you happier than to have a chat, but the universe had sadly devised to keep us apart.

In comparison there is a small percentage of Australians’ who have no compunction in making it clear that they would rather walk on sharp blood letting objects for many, many hours than share a thought or two on the state of the nation. I appreciate your honesty, if not the the door closing forcefully in my direction. Equally, there is small percentage of enthusiastic, communicative, and open residents who enjoy a chat about whats going on in the world and how to go about fixing the things that frustrate them. To these people I say thank you – my faith in humanity is restored each and every time you stop to meaningfully engage with a complete stranger on your door step (I bet the Mormon’s just love you too).

And to the comfortably retired curmudgeon who’s chief concern was maintaining his superannuation funds in the face of a) lazy, stupid and entitled young people aka “welfare bludgers”, b) “millions of refugee’s” flooding into Australia, c) “Do-gooders” like me,   and d) “socialist loopy’s like Bernie Sanders” I salute you for having the courage to fiercely resist all of the changes that have occurred in the world since 1989. Let me know how that works out for you.




My role in the solar revolution

I came across a statistic recently that set me thinking. The figures indicate that over 1.5 million homes in Australia now have photovoltaic systems on their roofs, which reflects 18% of our homes. Not an insignificant percentage, and all of the forecasts indicate that the number will continue to grow rapidly in coming years. My first thought was how does this figure compare with on the ground observations in Coburg? The basic scientific model I followed was to walk a random route, in this case the 1.5 km journey to our local school, and take a photo of every solar system I could spot from the street.

Image: S.Powell

I passed a total of 191 homes, and captured 34 images of photovoltaic systems, which clocks in at 17.8% of homes, a figure which happily surprised me – Coburg is thankfully representative of the masses.

All of this got me thinking about what motivated individuals to invest in solar in the first place. The traditional arguments seem to have been the money saving potential on your energy costs and/or the positive impact on the environment. Both of these are great and legitimate, but the impact either way was only ever on a relatively insignificant individual basis.

What seems to have taken everyone by surprise, including the energy industry, is the disruptive nature of millions of solar panels spread throughout the community. The biggest initial impact being that they act as a decentralised power station, significantly reducing the need for coal fired power stations to be switched on during the day to meet demand, traditionally a time when these facilities achieved their largest margins, thereby reducing their profitability and making the business of coal considerably more marginal.

How many members of the community when they installed solar panels believed they were revolutionising the power industry? Perhaps on some theoretical level, but to actually see it happening in real time is extraordinary. The next phase of the revolution is the much hyped introduction of home battery storage and subsequent micro grids, turning individual homes or small communities into their own power stations, and a future network based on the decentralisation of energy. If you missed the recent Catalyst episode aired on the ABC that described this movement in detail, then watch below:

Is it any wonder that those who are profiting from the status quo remain so derogatory of the renewable energy industry? The threat to fossil fuels and the centralised power industry is real and ultimately terminal, but they aren’t going to go down without a fight.

Viva la revolution, Viva la Coburg.


Getting on the Coles bandwagon

We are going through something of a philosophical journey in regard to our grocery shopping here in Coburg. Step 1 on this path to enlightenment was to begin to feel uncomfortable about the relationship Woolworths has with the poker machine industry. Make up your own mind on the issue, but as a matter of personal choice we have walked away from the store, although I’m not sure they’ve noticed yet. Step 2 was to consider the amount of plastic packaging we were bringing home after a family shop, mostly wrapped around our fruit and veg; the recycling bin was full to overflowing each and every week.

Being confirmed Aldi fans for sometime – a magical shopping duet with the local Woolworths – the time had come to source our fruit and veg plastic free. All it took was a calculator and the receipts from our last supermarket shop to realise that we were spending the same amount of money as a large mixed fruit and veg box from CERES Fair Food. The universe was calling, because once we looked at the details we found our local food host lived directly across the road, requiring a less than 60 second journey door to door on a Thursday afternoon to pick up our box. Sold on the concept, we are a couple of weeks in and loving the variety of seasonal produce, and wondering on occasion what to do with the mystery vegetable of the week (I think its kale, but it may also be the illegitimate offspring of broccolini and rocket).

So we’ve got rid of Woolworths and we’ve got rid of kilo’s of plastic on the road to nirvana, can it possibly get any better? With CERES providing our fruit and veg, and Aldi the bulk of our other needs, we still required particular products/brands that neither supplied to our liking, so ‘hello’ Coles Coburg North. More a marriage of convenience, I wasn’t really expecting to view Coles through the lens of sustainability. It was something of a surprise then to come across the large internal promotion of the stores sustainability credentials

IMG_20160220_132500_6(Image: S.Powell)

There is a part of my brain that is very cynical about Coles embracing the sustainability movement, but to give them their due, they are at least aware of the bigger picture and their corporate responsibility. The broader argument being that there is a growing legitimacy crisis between society’s expectations of business’ social performance and there actual (much lower) performance. This is driven by four key factors, the first being that the social, environmental and economic priorities in which business operates is changing:

  • in the past they could afford to be oblivious to their social and environmental impacts
  • now they have to strive to reduce impacts and project a positive image
  • in the future they have to have positive impacts and provide social and environmental solutions

The second factor is the three waves of environmentalism model proposed by Krupp (1992), in which the business sector is slowly but surely brought to the table:

  • 1st wave: Activism (industry and govt. resistance)
  • 2nd wave: Government Intervention (resistance to regulation)
  • 3rd wave: Market based solutions (business participates)

The third factor is the new logic of business:

  • that the environment is no longer a threat to the bottom line, and
  • green strategies are good for both the planet and business, as they
    • save money
    • minimise risk, and
    • boost competitiveness

Finally, the last factor is the business case for sustainability, or how to do more with less:

  • Cost savings – less waste, reduced material inputs
  • Improved risk management – reduced risk and liabilities
  • Marketing advantage – innovation, competitiveness and differentiation
  • Human resource benefits – better staff morale, loyalty, decreased absenteeism
  • Value creation and protection – improved quality and safety = improved shareholder value

How sincere Coles is, and how far they have travelled done the path of their own enlightenment is a discussion for another day, but its always an encouraging sign to see these concepts seeping into the local business community.


Krupp, F. (1992). Business and the third wave: saving the environment. Vital Speeches, 58(21), 656-659.

Transitions Film Festival Melbourne: 18th Feb – 3rd Mar (Cinema Nova)

Choose your poison, there are any number of great documentaries on offer for your viewing delight, starting today –

The Transitions Film Festival is visionary program dedicated to spotlighting the complex challenges, cutting-edge ideas, creative innovations and mega-trends that are redefining what it means to be human.

We present positive, solutions-focused films and showcase cutting-edge ideas from around the world, along with the creative, academic, governmental, community and business leaders who are creating change locally.


Sydney Rd: Nightmare or Opportunity?

We are at the early stages of a significant change, or ‘paradigm shift’, in the ways in which [urban] transportation is conceived, planned, financed and implemented (Schiller et al 2010, xxi).

In local news this week, the Victorian State Government knocked back plans devised by Revitalise Sydney Rd, and endorsed by Moreland Council, to remove on-street parking along Sydney Rd. The central sticking point is the concern from local business that the lack of street parking would negatively impact on their trading.

Anyone familiar with the key strip of Sydney Rd in question, as it runs between Bell St in the north and Brunswick Rd in the south, would likely agree that significant change is needed. Personally, if I’m driving our car Sydney Rd is to be avoided at all costs, as a cyclist it is something of a death trap, and as a pedestrian it is an ugly, noisy, wind tunnel. On the few occasions that I use the tram, it is commonly stuck in traffic and risky to step on and off. Having made those complaints, local people just love it. Historically it has always been a nexus for local business and trade and therefore a place for social interaction, a physical and geographical heart of the community, joining together the suburbs of Coburg and Brunswick like a great big zipper right down their middle.

One of the historical reasons for the considerable congestion we see today is that the creation of the Sydney Rd strip dates back to a period when the key design paradigm in existence was the ‘transit city’. The introduction of passenger rail, horse-drawn street cars and eventually electric trams enabled urban expansion which reshaped our local urban form, and which is clearly still physically visible today in and around Sydney Rd – medium density, mixed use, grid based and centralised. In essence you could walk from home for all of your shopping, you may have been walking to work yourself or walking to the nearest tram or train stop to take you further. This smaller, more human scale built environment hasn’t physically altered since but we insist on cramming in hundreds of thousands of more people and their cars. Is it any surprise that is doesn’t work?

My perception is that Revitalise Sydney Rd are promoting a paring back of the way Sydney Rd is used, so that it more closely reflects the priorities and intentions of the transit city design that the area originally supported. Schiller et al 2010 speak to the historical changes we can observe here on Sydney Rd, the first being the public transport age, the second the automobile age, the third the age of disillusionment (as represented by the existence of Revitalise Sydney Rd as a lobby group), and the final era to follow – the age of sustainability.

Whilst the concerns of local traders can’t be ignored, I wonder what price we will pay for doing little or nothing in the long term? Cities like London, Paris, New York, Singapore and Seoul have taken the bull by the horns and introduced significant disincentives to automobile use (such as economic instruments, road diets and parking policies) and as a consequence are returning the streets to the people. For one of the most extraordinary examples from Seoul, watch this video:

By creating a more sustainable transport system on Sydney Rd we could achieve the following outcomes:

  • When cars are removed, space is created for activities and functions that are more valuable to the area economically, socially, culturally and environmentally
  • When public transport is favored over the automobile there is increased equality within the community, reduced emissions, and increased personal economic expenditure in areas other than transportation.
  • When walking and cycling are more often undertaken, the health benefits are significant and the public spaces are more engaging, inclusive and connected.

Communicating and installing these benefits is the challenging task now required to shift Australian cities, and Sydney Rd, towards a new paradigm of sustainability.