By Nick Sas
Kostas Karras now thinks there’s a future in working as a ride-sharing driver. (ABC News: Nick Sas )
Kostas Karras almost quit his job as an Uber driver in December.
After six months of working 60-hour weeks, it just wasn’t worth it anymore.
“After all the expenses I was making $15 or $16 an hour,” he said.
“No matter what you do in Sydney you can make more money than that.”
It was a tough decision for the former logistics company employee.
He liked the job, meeting new people and working flexible hours, but the money — and the lack of job security and benefits such as sick pay — led to him quitting.
Like many across Australia working in the gig economy, he found the ends did not justify the means.
But in December he saw a turn — in the form of competition.
And then there were three
Estonian-headquartered ride-sharing company Taxify launched in Sydney in December, was followed by Indian company OLA, which kicked off in March.
Taxify, now also in Melbourne, marketed itself as an “Uber killer” on its December launch, offering up half-price fares in a bid to lure customers away from its San Francisco-based rival.
OLA, also in Perth and Melbourne, is in the midst of a similar tactic.
Both use a smartphone app and operate in a very similar way to Uber, which describes drivers as “partners” rather than employees.
Yet the one thing that stood out for Mr Karras was the commission rates provided by the new players.
OLA takes an “introductory” 7.5 per cent commission of each ride, which will increase to 15 per cent at an undisclosed date, whilst Taxify takes 15 per cent.
Kostas Karras, from Wetherill Park, about a 90-minutes from the CBD, says you need to be “patient” driving around Sydney. (ABC News: Nick Sas)
Uber, which other from the taxi industry had been operating in an almost competitor-free environment in Sydney for more than five years, takes 25 per cent to 27.5 per cent, depending on the drivers’ GST arrangements.
“I drive for all three platforms,” Mr Karras said.
“It’s allowed me to keep going with the job.
“But I drive probably 80 per cent for OLA now because the rates are so good, and I would say my hourly wage would now be $22 to $23.”
The price is right
The rise of the ride-sharing economy has been phenomenal.
Uber today claims to have 20,000 “active-driver partners” and 1.3 million regular riders in Sydney alone.
OLA refused to reveal how many Sydney-based drivers are registered on its platform, only declaring a nationwide figure of 15,000.
The OLA app – as well as Taxify – works in a very similar way to Uber’s. (ABC News: supplied)
Taxify declined to release any driver statistics.
One driver on all three platforms who spoke to the ABC on the basis on anonymity said it was impossible to be a ride-sharing driver without Uber.
“You need Uber to survive,” he said.
“They have market dominance and you just can’t get enough rides at the moment without it.
“It will be interesting to see what happens to the others (OLA and Taxify) when the honeymoon period finishes.
“But everyone knows Uber, it’s so popular – so they can get away with doing what they like.”
The union-backed Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work in March calculated that the average income of the ridesharing service’s drivers working in six Australian cities is less than $15 an hour.
Uber says it has 1.3 million regular users and 20,000 “active driver partners” in Sydney alone (The Business)
Uber declined to answer specific questions on the average wage for one of its “driver partners” or the introduction of new competitors, but said it welcomed competition as it “keeps us focused on delivering the very best product and customer experience”.
Taxify country manager Sam Raciti said competition was “healthy and needed”. He said its drivers were welcome to drive across multiple platforms.
“We motivate drivers to stick with us by creating the best earning opportunities — offering the lowest commission as well as bonus incentives,” he said.
OLA marketing director Natasha Daly said, in the past, both customers and drivers had limited options.
“We believe that an open market unlocks potential to innovate in order to meet customer needs,” she said.
Mr Kostas says having competition in the ride-sharing sector gives him more security as a driver (ABC News: Nick Sas)
But for Mr Karras, it all came down to one thing: providing for his family.
“If think if you do it full-time, and you want to make an OK living, you need to do all three,” he said.
“Now I’m making a lot more for my family, and I’m happier at work, which is important.”