Taxi fares in Nottingham could be slashed after a controversial new company was given the green light to launch in the city.
Private hire firm Uber – which uses a cashless system where customers order and track a cab on their smartphones – was yesterday given a licence by Nottingham City Council.
It has been welcomed by residents but taxi drivers already working in the city say they are “worried” it could put them out of business.
The company says it can offer cheaper prices than rival taxi firms because it is more efficient by providing the nearest drivers and using a centralised meter.
Max Lines, the Uber general manager in Manchester and Sheffield – who will oversee the Nottingham launch, could not give a launch date but said it would be “in the next few months”.
“It’s really great to have got the licence as we’ve proved that we’re going to be good for the city,” he said.
“Nottingham is a huge UK city and we’ve already seen a lot of demand in the app from people here, while a lot of drivers have written to us.
“There’s already excitement from students and other people who have used it elsewhere.”
The app, currently operational in 58 countries, works by customers registering a payment card, which is automatically debited after a taxi ride.
They input the time and address of their pick-up and can track the car journey on a map displayed on the screen of their phone.
They are also sent a photograph of the self-employed driver and car details.
After a ride, the driver and passenger can rate each other, while the customer can also use the app to make a complaint.
It has attracted controversy because drivers don’t have to be trained and licensed, with recent protests held by cabbies in London and Paris against the firm.
The private hire operator’s licence was awarded after three Uber representatives attended the council’s regulatory and appeals committee meeting at Loxley House.
They spoke about the expansion of the company – which first launched in Britain three years ago and now operates in seven UK cities – and answered questions from councillors for two hours.
Issues addressed included how drivers’ background are checked, car safety, how data is used and price surges.
Andrew Byrne, Uber head of public policy in the UK, said full checks, including criminal records, are made for all drivers and vehicles are regularly tested.
He said they can be held to account by unsatisfied customers by tracing live and past journey routes – which can be sent to others – and digital fare receipts.
Mr Byrne added: “We’re able to match the demand and the efficiency of the Uber system allows us to be cheaper. In London it’s 40 per cent cheaper than a black cab on average and 95 times out of 100 we will be the cheaper option.”
Committee chairman Brian Grocock said: “We understand it’s had a customer satisfaction throughout the country, although it’s also had difficulties in various parts.
“We’re open to new systems within the city because we’re a progressive city with transport and look forward to working with Uber.
“I believe it will be good for younger people of the electronic age and it will safeguard people so they aren’t handling money in taxis at night.
“But should Uber not work in a right and proper manner then we have the right to review the application.”
The decision was welcomed by some residents, who said they would use the app.
Student Kylie Maddison, 23, of Gedling, said: “I’ve heard of it being used in America and it would depend on how prices compare with other companies.
“If it’s cheaper, I would definitely use it. It could be the new way of getting taxis.”
Customer services assistant Adam Nelan, 23, of Carlton, added: “Taxis can be really expensive so I’d be tempted if it’s cheaper and more useful.”
And Tim Shinfield, of Selston, believes it could prove to be popular.
The 52-year-old forklift trainer said: “If I was on a night out in Nottingham I’d use it because the buses aren’t that good now.
“It’s good that they do their own checks on drivers.”
But existing taxi drivers are concerned about how it will affect their business.
Hackney carriage driver Paul Purwaha, 58, of Gedling, said: “People who have apps and are sitting on the train will just book their taxis on their phone rather than catching a black cab outside.
“A journey we do for £10 might be £6 with Uber so it’s going to have a big effect on all the taxi trade in Nottingham.
“I’m coming towards retirement so it’s not too bad for me but I’m worried for the younger drivers who it will effect a lot.”
Kevin Clarke, owner of Clifton-based NG11 Cars, said: “It’s not quite right because how are the cars and drivers going to be properly monitored?
“I’m a bit sceptical about the way it works but it was inevitable that it was going to come.”
Councillor Nick McDonald, portfolio holder for transport, said: “Representatives from Uber presented to the Council’s regulatory and appeals committee on Friday morning.
“Members asked detailed and specific questions around how the company operated, management of drivers and how they would comply with the terms and conditions of an operating licence.
“The decision was taken to grant the application subject to an additional condition that we have a contact available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if we need to get in touch with them outside office hours.
“The council has a statutory duty to grant an application for an operating licence unless it feels the applicant is not fit for purpose.
“After two hours of questioning, the committee was satisfied with the responses Uber gave and the licence was granted.”
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