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  • There are more than 40,000 Uber drivers regularly using the app in Australia, and they all come from different walks of life. (Supplied)
More than one million Australians have tapped the app and caught an Uber since the company launched here in 2012, and now driver numbers are growing to meet increased customer demand.
By
Source:
SBS Small Business Secrets
20 Nov 2016 - 5:05 PM  UPDATED 19 Jan 2017 - 10:07 AM

Seventy three year-old Janice Meyer was "stuck on the couch knitting squares" for two years after retiring to Australia from South Africa - but that didn't pay the bills.

"I was living on South African money which is practically worthless, and Australia is a lot more expensive than I had realised, so I need to earn an income."

The two-time CEO didn't want to re-join the corporate world and couldn't stomach the idea of having a boss.

She was at a loss for ideas, when a friend asked one fateful question.

"He said, "Have you heard of Uber" and I said "No" and he said "Well you'd better look it up", and I did some hard googling and here I am."

Janice is now an Uber driver, with three thousand trips under her seatbelt after two years driving part-time.

"It is like being in a pub and every 15 minutes someone sits at the bar next to you and you buy them a bottle of water and chat and then the next person gets in, and you get paid for that!"

Janice is limited to a maximum of 20 hours on her retirement visa, earning $700 a week through the app, to supplement her savings.

For Janice, the rewards are beyond financial; as a retired migrant with few relatives and friends in the country, she says Uber has become her social life and is the reason she "isn't an old lady".

"I love it, I get to meet Australians, real Australians and I have had the most wonderful people in my car, you can't imagine. I can't compare it to being a taxi, it is completely different to have someone get in the car and and say "Hey Janet" and I can say "Hey Matt".

Janice is sitting on a rating of 4.9 stars out of 5, which she attributes to her professionalism.

"Ratings show that you're a good driver, you can see that and passengers will trust you when you come up on their screen. Nobody is going to rate you badly on your personality, it's about giving them a smooth ride."

Although she did share her secret for sweetening the experience.

"Chocolate! Especially young people when they're drunk. I tell them to open the glove box and chocolates fall out and they say "five stars, five stars" and I say "that's right!""

Her message for migrants, especially seniors, is to get behind the wheel and discover the world around them.

"It's easy, you go online and you don't need to be scared of the technology it is very easy for people like me to use. Do it, you just must, I say, it's such fun."

Fellow Uber driver Phil Terpilowski edges slightly past Janice with a 4.92 star rating - he agrees that it's crucial to maintain a high score.

"It is still a small business, and your reputation is important, because just like any business people can choose to go elsewhere."

Phil is the ultimate proponent of the 'gig economy', running three consecutive 'gigs'; an outdoor training business, travel sales and driving close to 40 hours a week for Uber.

He is using the app for a short-term period, to shore up capital and access steady cash while launching his other ventures.

"The aim is to use the app for up to six months until the other businesses can pay me a full time wage, but even when the training business is together, it won't be full time, so I can be flexible."

Uber's weekly pay system was a significant drawcard for the entrepreneur.

"Small businesses survive or die on cash flow, so the immediacy is great and also, because I can choose to say, drive at 2am on a Saturday, because my other businesses need a lot of attention during business hours."

Drivers pay their own vehicle running costs, and give 20 per cent of every fare back to Uber.

Fewer than half of the app's 40,000 drivers in Australia, spend less than ten hours a week behind the wheel - but other drivers warn "they're not going to make any money treating it like a hobby".

And for some of them, that is just fine.

Edit: This Small Business Secrets story originally broadcasted Drive My Car as hiring out cars 'from $250 a day'. The correct amount is 'from $25 a day'.

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