A beloved Wollongong Uber driver says she has become a target for disgruntled taxi drivers, including one who doused her car in coffee as she drove two people home late on Tuesday night.
In an incident now under investigation by police and the NSW Taxi Council, grandmother-of-nine Rosemary Paterson’s Uber car was splashed with brown liquid as she drove away from North Wollongong nightspot Pepe’s On the Beach with two passengers on board, late Tuesday.
He said, ‘you better go and wash your car’. They kept saying that, the three of them – ‘wash your car’.
She claims she got out of her car to confront a group of taxi drivers, who challenged her rideshare operation and repeatedly told her “wash your car”.
With her car interior smelling of Cuddly fabric softener, and complimentary lollies, water and sick bags on offer to her sometimes sloshed fares, Mrs Paterson, 66, credits Uber driving with giving her a new lease on life after losing her husband to cancer five years ago.
The role has given her license to explore the city’s nightlife and chat with the city’s 20-something population. Ignoring the concerns of her five children, she drives well into the night, sometimes only rolling back into her Woonona driveway at 4am.
“I love the uni kids. I go home with a sore jaw sometimes from laughing,” Mrs Paterson told the Mercury. “I feel as if I'm partying every night.”
“After they've all done their partying I just feel a duty to pick them up and get them home to bed. Cause I'm Grandma Rose - that's what I say to them.”
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Mrs Paterson became an Uber driver in May and has since amassed 1148 five-star ratings from customers who post reviews to the app, praising the “sweet lady” whose “conversation was just what I needed” and, according to one fan, “even had Sherbies on standby. Hectic”.
But according to Mrs Paterson, taxi drivers are less enthused about her arrival on the local driver-for-hire scene. She believes the Uber sticker on her car – a requirement of the trade since earlier this month – has made her a target.
She says three taxi drivers pulled up behind her at a Corrimal service station and flashed their lights at her one night earlier this month. Another, she claims, had “zoomed past and crossed straight in front” of her car while driving on a separate occasion.
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On Tuesday about 11.25pm, after dropping off three passengers and collecting two more, brown liquid splattered across the back of her car as she departed Pepe’s On The Beach.
One of her passengers, Tylah Hill, 18, said she heard a sound “like when it’s raining” before she realised the car had been hit with a brown liquid.
She said she had earlier noticed onlooking taxi drivers “giving [Mrs Paterson] dirty looks”.
“There were a bunch of them waiting for [fares] and they probably weren’t happy that she was getting [fares] and they weren’t,” she said.
“She spoke to one of them. They were all arms crossed, looking down, I guess trying to maybe seem a bit bigger than her.”
Mrs Paterson said she confronted some of a group of eight taxi drivers lined up at a rank directly opposite, including one man who stood near where the trail of spilled liquid began.
“I walked up and said, ‘you've got to be joking. Why? Why are you doing this for?’,” she said.
“He said, ‘you better go and wash your car’. They kept saying that, the three of them – ‘wash your car’.”
“He said, ‘you've got no right parking here, picking up fares’. I said, ‘I most certainly have the right’. The part where I park was free parking anyway - any of the customers from Pepe's could have parked there.
“He said, ‘you're only allowed to get fares through a phone call’.
“I said, ‘that's right, that’s all I get, it comes through the app’.”
Ms Paterson said she refused to be intimidated.
"I thought to myself, these men are of all different origins, they've come to this country to make a living and here they are trying to stop this little 66-year-old grandmother."
“There's plenty of work for everyone. Wollongong is growing so fast, they don't have to carry on like this.”
Uber arrived in Wollongong in March, sparking concerns about a livelihood-threatening decline in trade for the city's taxi drivers.
In the immediate aftermath, the NSW Taxi Council cited the differing costs of Greenslips - more than $9000 for taxi drivers compared to around $600 for Uber drivers - as a sign of the "manifestly unfair" situation.
The Illawarra Taxi Network referred the Mercury’s inquiries about Tuesday’s alleged incident to the NSW Taxi Council, whose spokesman said the matter was under investigation.
“I can confirm the Illawarra Taxi Network is taking this matter (alleged claims) quite seriously and investigating this further,” the spokesman said.
“The Illawarra Taxi Network does not condone such behaviour, and if the alleged claims are found to be proven, will be taking swift and appropriate action, including appropriate disciplinary action against the driver involved.
“These claims are extremely disappointing, as the Illawarra Taxi Network is doing a fantastic job with over 150 taxis providing outstanding service to members of the Illawarra community.”
A police investigation into the matter is ongoing.
A spokesman for Wollongong Police said police were looking to speak to a person of interest described as male, of mediterranean appearance, with a large build, bald head and “wearing what appears to be a taxi driver’s uniform”.
"If anybody has any information we urge them to call Wollongong police or Crime Stoppers.”
Contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 to assist with the investigation.