TECHNOLOGY GIANT Uber has launched in Yorkshire, bringing its disruptive private car hire service to Leeds.
The Silicon Valley firm started operating yesterday afternoon in Leeds, its third English city behind London and Manchester.
Uber is barely four years old, but now operates in 223 cities across the world and has a valuation of more than $18bn.
In Leeds, the company is offering its cashless UberX product, which enables users to book and pay for a private hire car directly through the Uber mobile phone app.
Tom Elvidge, general manager for Leeds, told The Yorkshire Post: “Leeds is a natural fit for Uber. It is a city embracing technology. We can bring an alternative to complement existing transportation. We have data on where we think would make sense for a city and we have seen 20,000 people downloading the app in Leeds in the last 12 months.”
The phenomenal growth of Uber has provoked multiple disputes with taxi firms and regulators around the world.
In London, taxi drivers brought parts of the capital to a standstill this summer in protest against what they saw as a lack of regulation.
Jo Bertram, general manager for the UK, Ireland and Nordics, told The Yorkshire Post: “Essentially we are bringing competition to an industry that hasn’t been shaken up in decades.
“We think that competition is good thing, both for riders and drivers, but obviously it can also be uncomfortable for some of those in the industry. We also think about the industry in quite a different way and it is quite a different business model from what we have had before.”
Ms Bertram was previously an engagement manager at high-powered consultancy McKinsey, while Mr Elvidge was a vice president at investment bank Goldman Sachs; these are hardly typical backgrounds for the taxi industry.
Uber launched in Manchester earlier this year. Ms Bertram said the city has been one of the firm’s fastest-growing ever. She added: “Here in the UK, we have been able to find a value proposition that really makes sense on both the consumer and the driver side.
“On the consumer side, the efficiency of the technology means that we are able to provide the best value at each price point.
“On the driver side, they also end up with better opportunity. It’s typically an industry where drivers work salaried shifts, it is very inflexible, they get very little visibility of when they are going to work and what they are going to earn.
“We make it very simple. They all can work with us as much or as little as they want.”
She said drivers can earn more money with Uber.
Uber sees growth in 500 cities
TRAVIS Kalanick, the confrontational chief executive of Uber, talks of being in 500 cities in the next few years.
The company’s huge growth potential explains why it has attracted backers like Goldman Sachs and Google and was valued at $18.2bn during a recent fundraising. Jo Bertram, who heads the business in the UK, Ireland and Nordics, told The Yorkshire Post: “There is still many other cities around the world where people would benefit, both riders and drivers, from having Uber.”
In the US, the technology firm is experimenting with new on-demand services such as bike couriers in New York, cornershop deliveries in Washington and fresh salad in Los Angeles.
Asked where Uber might be in a decade’s time, Ms Bertram said: “The journey to date has taken us from an idea that our founders had for San Francisco four and a half years ago to now being in something like 223 cities in 45 countries around the world.
“I don’t think every anyone envisaged on that year one where we would be today. It’s really hard to think that far ahead.
“It is a very fast-moving sector and Uber is a very fast-moving company that can react very quickly to technology trends.”
As well as angering incumbents by disrupting the trade, Uber has also faced criticism over its tax arrangements, a frequent complaint against US technology firms.
Ms Bertram insisted that the company is full compliant with tax legislation in all its markets.
She said Uber’s use of credit card processing as opposed to cash brought transparency to an industry run by cash in which a large proportion of revenues may not be reported for tax.
Ms Bertram added that 80 per cent of the fare stays with the driver, who is paying taxes.
Mr Kalanick was this week honoured by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America for getting 5,000 veterans driving for Uber.
The company is headquartered in San Francisco.
Leeds grants licence to Uber
The prospect of Uber launching in Yorkshire triggered a protest by members of Unite the union, fearful that the new market entrant would not be operating within the parameters of licensing guidelines.
Nonetheless, Leeds City Council decided to grant private hire operator licence on Thursday.
A spokeswoman for the local authority said: “The application by Uber to be a licensed private hire operator in Leeds was considered as per our usual licensing policies and regulations.
“A decision has been made to grant the licence based on the relevant legislation and compliance to local conditions.”
The city has around 4,000 licensed private hire drivers.