I rented a Toyota Corolla with a local “carsharing” operator GoGet on Saturday. This was for the sole purpose of driving on the wrong side of the road. I figured it was time to get some behind the wheel experience, with no family members sharing the car with me. I managed to live in London for 10 months, and Sydney for over 2 months without getting behind the wheel on the wrong side, but I plan a road trip next week, so practice helps.
I didn’t turn into the wrong lane, killed no one, so overall it was probably a success. But I still had two issues with driving that I had not thought about before.
- I kept hitting the windshield wiper instead of the turn signal. The turn signal is on the right side of the steering wheel (as opposed to the left in a car with left side steering like in the US). So the steering wheel is on the opposite side, and the turn signal is reversed as you might think it should be. It is thus operated with the right rather than left hand which requires unlearning. Note gas and brakes are on the same position (gas on the right, brake to its left). So it is an imperfect mirror experience.
- I cut left turns too sharp, and the tire might have touched the curb. As far as I could tell, I was properly in my lane when driving, though cutting the curb indicates I may have been too far to the left on multi-lane roads, no-one honked at me.
The difficulty is learning to drive while also learning to navigate, in a car you quickly leave the area that you are familiar with from walking about, and are in new areas. I drove down to La Perouse, mostly via the Anzac Parade (where the second LRT in Sydney is being constructed) just as some place to go, though I had never been there. I strongly believe learning to drive and learning to navigate should not be done simultaneously. (Just as learning to drink should occur before learning to drive). Yes I had my cell phone map and the silky navigation voice telling me what to do. Unfortunately the car did not have an in-vehicle navigation system, which as bad as they are, at least display a map. Since Sydney is not a grid system, directionality is not obvious.
Aside from the GoGet sign-up experience (they required an Australian mobile phone number to sign up, and I didn’t get one til a few weeks ago since my US plan worked fine for everything else, and was better for international roaming in places like China), everything else seemed to work fine. GoGet is more of a station-based, Zipcar like experience, but it is far more popular than Zipcar was in Minneapolis, so there was a car a block away rather than a mile and a half. Rental durations are determined in advance, though can be extended. So 2 hours was about $21 + $0.40/km (rates depend on the plan you choose, which trade off fixed costs of membership for variable cost per trip), which at 25 km round trip gives a driving lesson cost of $31. These rates seem high, and requires careful planning of trip duration, so I suspect carsharing will be a rare occurrence, and transit and taxi (Uber/ridehailing) more frequent.