Digital Life

Meet Canberra's Uber-savvy pensioners

Canberra retirees and pensioners are turning to Uber to top up their incomes.

Canberra Uber driver Ulli Brunnschweiler checks on traffic near her home via her smartphone.
Canberra Uber driver Ulli Brunnschweiler checks on traffic near her home via her smartphone. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Semi-retired Lyons woman Ulli Brunnschweiler registered to drive with the ride-sharing service in Canberra to stay active and top up her personal savings.

Contrary to what many may think, Ms Brunnschweiler said the necessity of owning a smartphone to work Uber is no obstacle to many Canberra seniors.

"The majority of my friends in the age group of 65 plus are completely tech-savvy and use all manner of devices – laptops, iPads, iPhones, GPS," she said.

"Some of my friends and neighbours in their 80s, who retired before computers replaced typewriters on desks, are less familiar with the use of computers and high-tech devices, but even they have smartphones.

"I have helped quite a few of them upload and use the Uber rider app."

Pensioner, Peter Mackay, made the switch from driving a taxi to an Uber car, and said it is a handy way to top up his funds while feeling like a "useful part of the community".

"It's good because you don't have to do huge shifts and there is no fiddling with credit cards or cash," he said.

Figures agree that 'tech-savy' is no longer a generational term.

In the year 2012-13, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported 46 per cent of people aged 65 and over were internet users. This was up 5 per cent from 2009, and more than double the 2003 figure.

According to the Australian Multi-Screen Report, this year group mainly used the internet for email and searching. Checking weather and directions were the most common reasons they use smartphones, with transport information ranking in seventh.

And less than 20 per cent of people in this age group owned a smartphone, the Australian Communications and Media Authority said.

But Mr Mackay believes older Canberrans are particularly tech-savy, estimating that about 20 per cent of his riders would be above the age of 65.

If that statistic is even close to the reality, it could lessen the challenge of social isolation for this age group, as has been the case for Mr Mackay.

A COTA survey of nearly 500 senior Canberrans found almost half experienced some difficulty travelling locally.

While some older Canberrans rave about the benefits of Uber, COTA's Jane Thomson said she was not aware of anyone who had used it yet.

And not all seniors find it easy to use, including senior Jenny Holmes, who had trouble navigating the website and registering with the app.

So how do taxis compare?

They may not be as smartphone-reliant as Uber, but the Canberra Elite taxi service does have a web-based app that is "of particular benefit to aged people wishing to book a taxi", Canberra Taxi Industry Association executive director Tony Bryce said.

"The app allows the customer to select a taxi through the their mobile phone, to identify the taxi number and to track its progress so that the customer can anticipate its arrival," he said.

Ms Brunnschweiler believes that while more seniors are becoming familiar with these technologies, more support should be available to teach them how to use it.

"I'd like to see more workshops showing people how to use things like Uber," she said.

"Because the technology is there, and whether we use it should not be defined by our age."