A trip to Obee City

I took a trip out to Sydney’s wild west the other day. The journey  came as a breath of fresh air mixed with sadness for the over-aspirational families caught up in a nightmare of high mortgage repayments, two-hour commutes and total household disruption.

No doubt about it – western Sydney is, or could be, BEAUTIFUL. But
what happens when you pair a team of rapacious developers with a bunch of molly-coddled young couples? Take a chunk of pristine farmland and woodland forest, let the developers run riot and then market the result as the Great Australian Dream?

At midday, Leppington station is deserted, except for the squadrons of cars parked higgledy-piggledy by the side of the road – on the grass, to presumably evade the no stopping signs. The phalanx of cars stretches what must be a km or more from the station. Clearly, Leppington is little more than a hub, servicing what would be called dormitory suburbs if the commuters had any time to actually get any sleep.

A short bus ride from Leppington Station, Oran Park and Harrington Grove  are impressive, except for the usual conglomerate of Woolworths, the Reject Shop and Anytime Fitness. Make that “Anytime Fatness”:  Oran Park could better be described as Obesity Park, or simply Obee City. A TV-stoked diet of Coca-Cola, fast “food” and supersaturated fat has made the residents of Obee City some of the most grossly-girthed specimens on this or any other planet.

Superb public landscaping is a feature of Oran Park. It has to be publicly funded because of the vegetatation-aversion of the developers. Indeed, there are very few trees on the picket-fenced blocks covered with obesely sized houses. I couldn’t help wondering which came first – the super amply sized houses or the super amply sized inhabitants?

At a time when family sizes and marriage durations are both shrinking, unscrupulous marketing is pushing people to buy properties they can neither afford nor properly maintain. So the house stretches right up to the fenceline. But there’s still room for a tree – so long as it doesn’t have any branches or leaves.

I took the train from Leppington back to Burwood Station and was immediately struck by the scarcity of obese people in Burwood. With a sizable Chinese population, the people of Burwood eat PROPERLY: plenty of fresh vegetables; meals stir-fried instead of overcooked; and not a fast food store in sight. Maybe a visit to Burwood should be made compulsory for the citizens of Obee City.

Honour among Thieves

 

There are a lot of taxidrivers older and wiser than I am (okay maybe not older but certainly wiser) who have a real perspective on the taxi industry.

I was at the taxi holding bay at the International airport. Unusually,  I was locking my car.  Another driver said to me: “Hey – there’s no need to lock your car here. No one is going to steal anything from your car. Haven’t you heard the saying ‘Honour among thieves?”

The driver went on to say: “ ‘Thieves’ would be a good description for us taxi drivers. For the last 40 or 50 years we’ve been robbing the customer blind, and now it’s all coming back to bite us.

Slightly less scabby

Five years after the Uber invasion, and with the NSW government at last looking as though it’s about to level the playing field on insurance for taxis and “ride share” interlopers, cash-strapped cabbies are looking decidedly less scabby.

Hey, even the new 13cabs uniform looks pretty slick. Let’s see if the 13cabs rebrand restores some real cred between customers and cabbies.

 

Hiding behind the smokescreens

Taxi drivers  hate Uber-X . Passengers love Uber-X. But the authorities will hide behind any number of firewalls and smokescreens to avoid facing up to the real issues. They are loathe to act, because to do so would require them to confront the reasons why Uber-X was able to muscle in to the passenger transport industry in the first place.,

Fact One: Taxi plates are grossly over-priced. When passive “investors” send the cost of owning  or leasing a taxi sky-high, then both Drivers AND Passengers suffer hugely, in the form of low incomes and high fares, respectively.  A colleague of is leasing a taxi, paying $1350 a week in leasing fees  and another $200 or so for fuel – so he needs  to take at least $1550 in fares before he makes ANYTHING at all for himself. Other lessee drivers are paying even more – up to $1600 a week PLUS fuel in some cases.

Little wonder, then, that most drivers are super-stressed. And if they take that out on their passengers, then that can only be described as collateral damage

One solution that has been advanced is for the government to buy back plates and then reissue them at a fair value.  And if greedy investors lose a little in the process, then so be it!

Fact Two: Most cabbies are in the game for the wrong reason. Putting the customer first seems to be a foreign concept to most drivers (including myself, most of the time, I gotta admit). Why else would looking after veterans, helping disabled passengers and carrying out short fares be regarded with such disdain?

The solution: Give even silent praise to drivers who rise above expectations. Pity those drivers whose bad karma is going to send them ever lower down the evolutionary ladder until the last rung is kicked out from under them.

The OPAL card for taxis?

Most Sydney taxi users are fed up with the level of service from established taxi networks.

“Sometimes I wait three or four hours for a cab to turn up”, a young Burwood lady told me.

AAGH! Three or four HOURS???! What kind of service is this?

In truth, there’s rarely such a thing as service in the taxi industry nowadays, People often book a taxi only to find that it never turns up. When people go to a cab rank to get into a taxi, they’re often asked where they would like to go. If the job happens to be “only” a local job they are often (and illegally) refused service.

Meanwhile, the cab ranks are crowded with taxis, their drivers passively waiting for that “ideal” job that somehow never turns up.

Customers tired of poor taxi service are now turning in droves to booking apps, such as Uber and goCatch. Both of these are rated highly by both customers and drivers. Of the two, maybe Uber has the more efficient algorithm, in that the job is automatically dispatched to the nearest available taxi. On the other hand, goCatch is more hands-on, and some say more user-friendly.

However, there is a real “apps war” going on just now. Drivers are being squeezed by lower commissions, and at the same tme customers are being charged higher fees,

So what is the answer? Maybe extend the successful Opal card to taxis. With an Opal terminal in each cab, riders could just “tap on, tap off”. Taxi bookings made by phone or via an app could be linked to the customer’s Opal card, with say a $10 booklng deposit that would be forfeited in the case of a “no show”. but otherwse credited towards the final fare. All in all, cheaper. more secure and more efficient.

 


	

Why do people hate taxi drivers?

This is s BIG question! Because  ultimately it boils down to the question: why do people hate ME?

I’ll give an example:

It was a freezing day back in May when I picked up Norma Fordham from a surgery in Lane Cove. She had been standing in the cold for nearly half an hour, waiting for a taxi that never arrived. The job had been rejected by every other taxi driver in Lane Cove. And why? Because it was “just a local job”.

Meanwhile, back on Lane Cove rank stood a long queue of taxis, their drivers waiting for a job to the airport, or a similarly long fare – like a mentally defective poker machine player who rejects every payout but a jackpot.

As she got out of the cab, Mrs Fordham turned to me and said: “Thank you for picking me up. By the way, I turn 100 next month.”

I’m happy to say that Norma Fordham DID go on to celebrate her 100th birthday – in real style. But what if she had succumbed during her wait,  due to the selfish actions (or non-action) of a bunch of lazy cabbies?

Sydney’s Awe-full Landscapes

It’s the landscape that makes people rave about Sydney. But if you go by such websites as TripAdvisor, it would appear that most visitors never venture out of the Opera House-Circular Quay-Harbour Bridge triangle. To get a broader take on Sydney’s hugely diverse range of landscapes, it’s necessary to go a little further afield.

In the boondocks/hinterland, or “boonland” of Sydney, each suburb defines itself by its own little part of this bewilderingly fractured landscape, carved out from  headlands, bays and peninsulas. Some localities virtually hang off sandstone cliff-faces, while other suburbs are broken up by narrow alleyways suitable only for cyclists or a rider on a very skinny horse.

Here then are just a few “hidden gems” of Sydney:

  • Auburn Botanic Gardens:  The nine hectares of gardens at Auburn come as an “amazing to find this here in Auburn” kind of surprise. Top features include a waterbird-attracting lake, the hugely-authentic   Japanese Garden, the Native and Rain forest Garden and a fauna reserve with aviary:

Auburn Botanical Gardens brick arch1 Auburn Botanical Gardens pavilion 1

  •  Wattle Grove:  Way out west near Holsworrthy (en route to Liverpool), the well-planned suburb of Wattle Grove feels just right. People actually USE the many facilities offered, including bike paths, landscaped walking trails and an ornamental lake:

The artificial lake, which lies within the Georges River catchment and is fed by Wattle Creek, is edged with brick paving and extensive plantings of Lomandra and other native species

  • Cooper Park:  The heritage suburb of Woollahra demands a visit on account of its one BIG asset – Cooper Park, home to the last remaining pocket of virgin rainforest in inner Sydney. This gully running all the way from Victoria Road, Bellevue Hill to Manning Road in Double Bay was gifted to the Woollahra Council back in 1913 by wealthy landowner William Cooper. With subsequent additions, the narrow park is now well over one kilometre long, covering more than 15 hectares. A natural creek flows through the gully, with walking trails (eg Grey Gum Walk, Angophora Trail) named after some of the native vegetation in the park. You might catch sight of a goanna sunning itself trailside, or of other wildlife hiding in the undergrowth:612-293

To get to Cooper Park, take a train from Sydney Town Hall to Bondi Junction station, from where it’s about a ten minute walk to the park entrance at the northern end of Adelaide Street, Woollahra. Take a picnic lunch and unwind a little!

Other places include the Wolli Creek Valley walking trail (near the International Airport), the waterfront gardens of Leichhardt Street in Glebe, and Lake Gillawarna in Georges Hall near Bankstown – an  important breeding ground for native birds.

So when the last car – including my taxi – disappears from our roads, Sydney could well become the perfect example of the post-automobile city!

 

Big Tobacco and other Weapons of Mass Destruction

One of the more odious duties of a taxi driver is having to ferry around people who should be crawling on their bellies rather than being driven. I refer here to employees of companies producing worthless or life-detroying products.

It’s a long way from the tobacco fields of Virginia to the leafy Sydney suburb of Pagewood. In Westfield Drive, near the Westfield shopping complex, stands an unremarkable complex of heavily-guarded buildings belonging to the British-American Tobacco (BAT) company. Fortunately, my passenger on this particular day is working on building maintenance rather than being a BAT employee – and he has no hesitation in speaking his mind.

“The heavy security is to disguise the fact that people just don’t like working for BAT”, he says. “The company has to pay huge salaries just to keep people here – even now that production has fallen from seven billion cigarettes a year to around one billion. Most of the few staff that remain have been working here for twenty or thirty years or longer – and they know that they couldn’t get employment anywhere else.”

So, as BAT draws its last gasp, maybe it will start to reflect on the harm it has caused to so many lives. But don’t hold your breath.

PS I’m please to say that, six months down the road from this post, the facility HAS CLOSED!