A TOP boss from controversial taxi firm Uber said the company was ‘excited’ by the prospect of expanding into Portsmouth.
Jo Bertram, head of UK operations for Uber, said that the Silicon Valley company had Portsmouth in its sights as its fourth UK city, as revealed in The News.
Uber, a smartphone app which operates in 54 countries already, has made international headlines due to allegations of rape on one of its drivers and criticism that it capitalised on times of crisis by raising prices.
It has also faced fierce opposition from taxi drivers who fear the company will undercut their business and put the public at risk.
But Ms Bertram was keen to allay these fears saying that Uber simply provides a platform which encourages more drivers on to the network at peak times, meaning lower prices for customers.
She said: ‘Competition is good for customers and drivers. We are always looking at ways to make drivers more accessible and they find they are busier with us, so they are making more money overall.
‘It is a different model of working but it will bring value for money, better quality and a more convenient experience for customers. ‘Plus they can be completely reassured on the safety side.’
She stressed that all UK drivers have to be fully licensed and regulated by the local authority, the same as any other taxi company.
Uber drivers work on a freelance basis, working as much or as little as they like, with the company taking a 20 per cent cut of any fare booked through the app.
Ms Bertram said that Uber drivers also undergo extra checks on their knowledge, health and vehicle maintenance when they join.
As the customer uses a smartphone app to book a fare, they can see who the driver is before they book a ride and agree a fare, which provides an automatic electronic receipt.
The customer’s smartphone tracks the route the taxi is taking, enabling other people to know when the taxi is arriving as well leaving no opportunity for rogue routes.
Customers can also rate their driver, which Uber instantly reacts to if a bad rating is received.
Ms Bertram said: ‘We have the technology to go above and beyond in terms of safety.’
Uber currently operates in London, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham.
Ms Bertram said: ‘We have had huge successes in our other cities and we hope to expand into Portsmouth. We believe it can bring real value to the city and we are excited to apply to Portsmouth.’
Uber has put in an application to Portsmouth City Council for a licence to start a private hire firm based at 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour.
No date has been set by the council for a decision, however council leader Donna Jones reassured residents that the council would be scrutinising the application.
She said: ‘Any operator’s licence is subject to rigorous checks and we will be working with the police to check on any criminal activity, before there will be any opportunity to operate in Portsmouth.’
Meanwhile, taxi drivers remained apprehensive over the application.
Cabbie Steve Clark said there were still many questions to answer.
He said: ‘The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.’