Aberdeen could be just months away from welcoming Uber to its streets

07/05/2024

MATTHEW Freckelton, Uber’s UK Head of Cities, has revealed exclusively to the ChamberTalk podcast that the aim is for Uber to be live and working in the Granite City this summer.

Matthew said: “There’s a Licensing Committee meeting coming up in June. If we get granted the licence in June, from the city launches we’ve done recently, it’s taken about a month or two months before we have gone live.

“We’ll do a formal announcement that we will be going live. End of August, we’d be looking to go formally live.”

The firm had permission to operate in Aberdeen in 2018, but surrendered its licence.

Matthew, who joined the company post-pandemic, says Uber is placing a greater focus on expanding into new cities.

“Places like Aberdeen and Dundee are our focuses in Scotland,” he said.

“We see there are hundreds of thousands of people over successive months who have been opening the Uber app, trying to use it.

“They’ve used the app, come back to Aberdeen naturally thinking they can just open the app and get one of our vehicles and then found that they can’t.

“We see Aberdeen as one of the key cities we need to get licensed in, so we can start providing out travel services to the good people of the Granite City.”

Challenges in driver numbers

One issue that has presented itself in Aberdeen and throughout the country post-pandemic is difficulties in attracting private hire drivers.

The city boasted 849 taxi drivers in 2020, prior to lockdown. By the end of 2022, that had fallen to barely 605.

So how is Uber going to tackle that?

“We have got a field sales team that we’ll deploy in Aberdeen and any driver that wants to come on board with us they’ll find that out through the website,” says Matthew.

“When we go live we will be taking from the existing pool of drivers and we think drivers will want to come work for us.

“Meetings will be arranged with those drivers and we’ll go through the onboarding process.

“Drivers will present their documents to us for an ID check.”

Plans are to take around 40 to 50 drivers from the existing pool of licensed drivers and build from there.

While this may be cause for concern for taxi companies, Matthew was clear that drivers can continue their work for private hire firms as well as Uber.

“We fully support drivers being able to work for multiple operators in a city.

“There are specific bits of work that Uber doesn’t do at the moment, like school contract work for a local council.

“There are some extra specific regulatory challenges around that.

“We do see situations where a driver might have a local school contract…they’ll do that in the morning and then in the afternoon and then during the day they’ll come work for us.”

Could Uber operate outside of Aberdeen?

Things get slightly more complex for taxi operators when it comes to working outside of specific council boundaries.

Thus far, Uber has only submitted a licencing application to Aberdeen City Council (ACC).

This means they can operate within city boundaries, but cannot do any pick-ups outside.

“If you’re in Aberdeen city centre (or ACC boundaries) and you are trying to get dropped off outside (council boundaries) that’s absolutely fine.

“If you are a driver and you are outside the area then we can’t currently do those.”

The long and short is: you can use Uber to get from Union Street to Stonehaven, for example. However, you wouldn’t be able to use Uber from Stonehaven to Union Street, as the start destination falls outside ACC boundaries.

“It’s a problem that we have in Glasgow as well, and Edinburgh,” Matthew added.

A boost for the city centre

Another of the key issues facing Aberdeen is taxi provision – or the lack of – on late nights.

It often acts as a deterrent to people coming into the city and supporting local bars and restuarants.

However, with Uber working alongside taxi firms, private hire cars should be more accessible on busy nights.

“We see in other cities through some independent research we had conducted that every million trips that Uber does, we add £18million in economic activity. That’s the big picture that we want to bring to Aberdeen,” Matthew said.

The actual figure if £18.1million per million trips.

Matthew added: “Does Aberdeen want £18million a year of extra economic activity? The answer is going to be yes, and we look forward to delivering that and so much more for Aberdeen.

Workers’ rights

Another concern people have is regarding safety and workers’ rights.

A Supreme Court case in 2021 ruled that Uber workers are not self-employed and are therefore fully entitled to minimum wage and holiday pay.

Matthew reckons no operator in the country has “such stringent workers’ rights as Uber provide”.

“They have access to our pension plan with contributions from Uber, they get free sickness cover and they also have the opportunity to upskill if they wish through a partnership we have with Open University.”

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