Uber: Uber hype or Over hyped?
In October Uber was approved in Brighton, in November it arrived in Portsmouth and now it is only a matter of time until Southampton and Bournemouth find it pulling up outside, but what is it and what does it mean for transport on the South Coast?
6 Years Old and Founded in California
It seems almost inevitable in the 21st Century for world changing technology to be created in Silicon Valley, California, and so it is unsurprising that that is exactly where Uber came from.
Founded by Garrett Camp, the founder of StumbleUpon, and Travis Kalanick, the company started out supplying low cost rides, through a self designed app, to residents of San Francisco. Since its initial conception in 2009 it has grown into a company worth over $50 Billion, operating in over 300 cities, in 58 countries, all around the globe.
An alternative to the Black Cab
Uber’s success has been attributed to a number of different factors; cheaper fares, a quick service, and enabling anyone to become a driver. Arguably though it is Uber’s forward thinking technology that has truly driven its success.
The Uber app allows drivers to be their own boss, side step onerous taxi exams (such as London’s the Knowledge Test), and based on Uber’s own reports, earn more money. While for the customer it means being able to see drivers in real time, to order a car at the touch of button and the ability to pay on card. There are also those that argue that Uber’s rating system and the ability to see driver information beforehand means it is safer to use than picking up a cab off the street.
A short but bumpy road to success
Although Uber has grown astronomically in the past 6 years, both geographically and financially, it has not always been a smooth ride. Its founders have faced, and continue to face, opposition the world over.
There are partial bans in Germany, Netherlands, and even in its birthplace of the U.S. and in some countries, such as Thailand and India, it has been banned outright. In London and Paris there have been mass protests by taxi drivers, causing gridlock across the cities, and any suggestion of impropriety becomes front page news.
Recently Transport for London has been working on new private hire regulations which have been viewed as a direct attack on Uber’s operating model and which would, if seen through, affect their ability to act profitably in London.
Fortunately for Uber, as is apparent in their growth, they have been able to find a way past the opposition. This has been through a mixture of noise at the grass roots level (those of the public in favour of Uber making themselves heard) and heavy investment in political lobbying across the globe, tactics which can be attributed to the Competition & Markets Authority critical response to Transport for London’s proposals.
Uber on the South Coast
In the UK Uber operates in just 10 cities with Portsmouth leading the way on the South Coast, but with Brighton council recently signing off on a licence it will not be long till more of us are aware of its presence.
Whether this is a good thing or not is a matter of opinion. Uber would argue that they are bringing new jobs to the area; its arrival in Portsmouth meant the opening of an office at 1000 Lakeside as well as a support centre in Portchester and 600 applications from prospective drivers. They would also claim that they are challenging the status quo and bringing a better service to consumers. There is also the potential that it could help with alleviating transport and congestion problems on the South Coast. Both Southampton and Portsmouth suffer from heavy queuing in and out of the city and UberPool could be a way help alleviate that.
On the other hand established taxi companies ask that city councillors put the breaks on before speeding to allow Uber access to their roads. While fearing the loss of drivers and customers, they argue that Uber is not as safe as it seems and that Uber erodes the traditional need for a driver to have knowledge of the area he operates in.
Whether you are for Uber or not, it cannot be denied that it is driving change. In Southampton a number of firms have adopted more modern ways to order taxis, including apps of their own and smarter phone-in services, while others have introduced card readers to their cars. There is also the potential that its ability to provide flexible working hours and higher wages while offering cheaper rides will provide an incentive for current taxi and private hire firms to do the same.