‘Local Cab’, Uber’s new product which enables passengers to book a trip with a local cab company via the Uber app, has divided taxi and private hire industry opinion since it first went live earlier this year.
The Local Cab option uses Autocab’s iGo network which has been integrated onto the Uber platform for the first time since the two firms controversially reached an acquisition agreement in August 2020.
In a bid to understand more about Local Cab, we caught up with three operators using the functionality. First we asked the obvious question - what made them take the plunge and join Local Cab?
Amir Khan, General Manager of 001 Taxis Oxford, said: “With Local Cab, we saw an opportunity in Oxford to fulfil more bookings and pass more work through to our drivers. Before Local Cab launched in Oxford, every month the Uber app was opened almost 65,000 times in the city.
“Tourists were getting off trains and clicking on the Uber app as their go-to option, but not being able to find a ride. When they would search for a local cab on Google as an alternative, they weren’t always sure which operator was reliable from the list that appeared. And they didn’t necessarily choose us either.
“By working with Uber, we’re giving our drivers a better chance of obtaining these trips.”
For Bedford based Key Cars, it was the challenging year bought on by the pandemic that persuaded them to try the new product. Amna Sadiqa from Key Cars said: “Like many other operators, we have experienced a challenging year due to the pandemic and were ready to welcome any new initiative that would help us to generate more business.”
David McIntosh, Director of Need-a -Cab Taxis in Plymouth, joined the Local Cab scheme after assurances from Uber. McIntosh said: “Our decision to get involved with the Local Cab pilot was made following assurances from Uber that it would not be using its ownership of Autocab to harvest driver data. The terms we agreed upon in our contract were also straightforward to understand.
“The kudos of being the first company globally to launch this new booking platform was an added bonus, and we are so excited about what the future holds for Local Cab in Plymouth.”
The first operator, Need-a-Cab went live in May. Despite being operational for only a few months, we asked if any of the operators involved have seen any short-term benefits since joining up with Uber and what their long-term hopes for the partnership are.
001 Taxis say they have already seen benefits with bookings via Local Cab in their thousands. Khan said: “The day we went live with Local Cab, we launched 15 minutes earlier than planned and started to see bookings coming through straight away. Local Cab bookings are now in the thousands and increasing weekly.
“Our drivers were really excited about the prospect of Local Cab, which is why so many have started to come back to work in the past month or two, for the first time since the pandemic began.
“We’ve even had drivers from other operators walk into the office, saying they’ve heard we’re working with Uber and that they want the opportunity to take on some of this work.
“Long-term we expect to see the number of bookings grow – particularly as people are still travelling less at the moment. Once the university students return, we expect things will pick up even more.”
It was a similar story in Plymouth where Need-a-Cab have also reported increasing work levels. McIntosh said: “The main short-term benefit for our company is that people using the Uber app can now book a Need-A-Cab taxi or private hire vehicle in Plymouth.
“For the long-term, we are seeing job numbers increasing week on week and we are confident that we will continue to see an increase in the jobs we accept from passengers using the Uber app alongside our everyday work.”
In Bedford, Key Cars plan to recruit more drivers in a bid to service Uber’s customer demand and expand its coverage in the area. Sadiqa said: “We've seen an increase in jobs thanks to Local Cab. Some of the bookings are helping us to fill quieter spells for our drivers, which is always a bonus.
“As we know, the name 'Uber' speaks volumes in our industry. Their riders trust the service they receive and will book with them regardless of price. So they know that when they make a booking with a local operator through Local Cab, Uber would've partnered with suitable and reliable local operators to offer a great service.
“Our long-term hopes are mainly to recruit more drivers, which we know will increase the number of bookings we receive through Uber as these only come through if there is availability of vehicles. In fact, we have already recruited a number of new drivers since launching with Local Cab.”
But what about the concerns that are still rippling through the industry? Do any of the early operators who switched to Local Cab have any remaining worries? Are others in the taxi and private hire industry right to show concern?
Khan said: “Like any taxi or private hire company in the industry, we had some apprehensions about working with Uber. In particular, we were concerned about losing some of our core customer base and that they would simply be recycled back to Uber. But these worries disappeared once we spoke to Autocab and Uber about the details of Local Cab.
“For those concerned, whether drivers or other operators, I would say that there is a huge opportunity available with Local Cab. It is going to help your business grow and give you access to customers that you didn’t have before.”
There were few concerns for Bedford’s Key Cars either. Sadiqa said: “We aren’t concerned because we know the riders who come to Bedford from other areas will already have the Uber app downloaded and will have been using it on their travels elsewhere.
“Any local customers using local taxi firm apps don't really switch to Uber. Others in the taxi and private hire industry shouldn't be concerned about this because ultimately it is only fair for the rider to choose how they would like to book a taxi and with whom.
“There are customers who prefer to book via an app but don't live locally and don't want to download a local app. They have Uber which they can now use across Bedford. There are always new firms starting up in cities and towns – we don't see how this is different.”
Finally in Plymouth where the Local Cab roll out began, McIntosh said: “All of our fears were alleviated at a very early stage, so we don't envisage any problems as our relationship with Uber grows.
“Operators will always have concerns about Uber and their primary business model, but I believe that this new way of working, alongside operators, is for the best and will only serve to benefit the industry over time.”
As more local operators join the Local Cab platform there will be more questions asked. Only time will tell whether the Local Cab leaves a positive or negative impact on the UK taxi and private hire industry.