It seems like only months ago, Uber was being hailed as a miracle replacement for the dysfunctional taxi industry. Then came revelations of a toxic internal culture, aggressive sabotaging of its competitors, a secretive program to evade local authorities, surge pricing during emergencies, and general poor treatment of drivers. And that time CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on video ranting at one of his employees.
In short: Uber may be cheap and convenient, but there are compelling reasons not to give it your business.
Meet Oscar. Or more accurately, Hi Oscar. Launched in January by Perth locals Daniel Broughton and Jeremy Webb, Hi Oscar is a local alternative aimed at bettering the ridesharing industry. It joins existing local service Shofer, which launched last year.
“Uber is a beast, so there’s no point making a carbon copy of it, but Hi Oscar is different in many ways," says Broughton, "What really catches people’s attention is that it’s an Australian company."
To date, Hi Oscar has attracted 330 drivers in Perth, and plans to launch in Sydney and Melbourne within months.
“We’ve had so many drivers try and reach us from Melbourne,” Broughton says. “We’ll be registering drivers and halfway through realise they’re not from Perth. We now have a list of drivers who are ready to sign up across the country.”
Part of Broughton’s inspiration was his father’s retirement from the workforce. Without a stable income, he couldn’t enjoy the lifestyle he’d envisaged. “There are concerns about the ageing population, but I think ride-sharing services can provide a good income,” Broughton says.
“The big companies take about 25 per cent of what the driver brings in,” Broughton continues. “We only take 15 per cent, and that money stays in [the local] economy.”
Unlike Uber, Hi Oscar is registered for GST, meaning drivers don’t have to cover the cost themselves. They only pay GST on their take-home pay, rather than paying it for the entire cost of a fare.
A standard "Oscar" (they also come in "fancy" and "big") has a $2.20 base charge in Perth and costs 35 cents per minute or $1.10 per kilometre thereafter. In contrast, a car from Swan Taxis, one of Perth's largest operators, is $4.20 initially and $1.72 per kilometre thereafter. And Hi Oscar does not use surge pricing.
Passengers can select their driver and can “favourite” them for future rides. This allows drivers to build a client base within their area, adding to Hi Oscar’s more personalised experience.
“There’s only a thumbs-up and thumbs-down rating for drivers, because what, exactly, is a rating of four or three out of five?” Broughton says.
Following in the steps of the female-only ride service Shebah, women can select a female driver. Hi Oscar employees also have the power to choose their passengers, transforming the typical rideshare dynamic into a two-way street.
Passengers can choose to minimise their carbon footprint by rounding their fare up to the nearest dollar and donating the difference to Carbon Neutral’s Plant-a-Tree program. Since January, Broughton says 189 trees have been planted thanks to Hi Oscar riders.
As a new company, Hi Oscar’s drivers may be spread thinly over the city compared with Uber, raising concern about availability, especially throughout the night.
“It’s small steps,” Broughton says. “We’re a small start-up, but the dream is one day everyone in Australia will partake in the ridesharing service.”
This article was updated on May 2 at 4.25pm EST to reflect the existence of Shofer, another Perth-based ridesharing service.