Getting rich off Uber - millionaires in the making

Published by Skyring in the blog Skyring's blog.

UberX has been running in Canberra for just over a month now. Legal from Day One.

As part of the deal Uber cut with the local government, cars had to be inspected for safety, and drivers had to pass police and driving tests. I had to submit my documents several times over during the certification process, but all went well and I was driving from the first minutes.

The inspection process was interesting. Only a few days until launch and my car had to be roadworthy. Uber advised an address where the inspection would be carried out, and I treated it as a dress rehearsal. Ran the car through the wash, vacuumed out the carpets, cleaned the interior, got a polishing cloth onto the inside of the door frames. I wanted it to look its best for the inspectors.

The inspection station turned out to be a bare unit in a light industrial area. The sort of suburb where car yards, furniture repairers, brothels and the like rent premises. A mechanic in frayed overalls was examining the innards of a nice-looking Ford Falcon on a concrete floor. A trestle table held a notebook and a coffee mug. That was it. Outside, a "U" made out of black electrical tape stuck on the wall in the shape of the Uber logo was stuck to the hinted that this was the right place.

Uber's public face in Canberra. I was not hugely impressed.

The mechanic got me to start the engine, pop the bonnet, turn on various lights, sound the horn and so on. When he asked me to turn on the wipers, they wouldn't budge, even though they had worked fine in the light drizzle a few hours earlier.

He was going to fail me on this, and I leafed through the owner's manual in frustration, trying to find the problem. We checked the fuse box, all correct, tried various settings of the wiper controls, no luck.

Eventually I found a note that the wipers wouldn't operate if the bonnet was open. Volkswagen having a joke, I figured. We lowered the bonnet, twisted the stalk, the wipers whipped back and forth and the last box was ticked.

A few days later, I was on the road, filling the car up with petrol, stocking it with Minties and spring water, buying new electronics, spending big to make a few bucks.

Yesterday I got a call from Uber. New government regulations, and if I could bring the car in, they'd inspect it again and issue a certificate for me to show any passenger who asked. Right. Passengers were very keen on inspecting my documents, I had noticed, especially late at night with a few drinks aboard, or when in a hurry to catch a plane.

But, what the hey! Governments love red tape and if I had to have the car inspected again, so be it. Uber was paying, after all.

UberInspect 002.jpg
This time around, what a difference! The empty space was beginning to fill up with expensive kit. A vehicle hoist, electronics, visitor chairs, professional signage. Two mechanics now ran the show - both in fresh uniforms.

They were churning the cars through. Four drivers turned up while I was there. The test only took a few minutes, but it was thorough, involving a lift up on the hoist, a test drive, a good look at all the important bits - left rear tyre nearing end of life, they told me - and more electronical trsting gadgets than you could poke a stick at.

One of the mechanics leaned in to check the registration and lifted a Mintie from the supply in the console. "Had to fail a few for no mints and no water," he joked. I just smiled. Minties are cheap.

With polished ease, the forms were filled out, a copy handed to me, and I was back on the road, all legal and tested, making my ten bucks an hour.

As I waited for the next ping, it occurred to me that I wasn't making much, but some were raking it in. Just like the old gold rush days, I thought. The miners mostly came out poorer than they went in, but the folks who sold the shovels to them, they made fortunes.

These mechanics running the tests were cleaning up big time. Hundreds of cars in the Canberra Uber fleet, each one inspected twice over. That's got to be worth a few dollars. Repeat annually and retire early.

That's the inspection process in Canberra. I wonder what happens in other cities?
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