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Uber is coming to Aberdeen – despite claims surge pricing will ‘recklessly inflate’ fares

Councillors voted on Uber's plans to launch in Aberdeen, amid complaints there are not enough taxis in the city at busy times.

Aberdeen City Council has backed Uber's bid for a licence to open a taxi booking office. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson
Aberdeen City Council has backed Uber's bid for a licence to open a taxi booking office. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

Uber has been granted a licence to bring its ride hailing service to Aberdeen.

The global brand is expecting to have drivers on city streets later this year, as part of a new expansion targeting cities across the UK.

Bosses and drivers with existing taxi firms in Aberdeen have protested Uber’s arrival, branding it a “huge stab in the back”.

More than a dozen taxi drivers arrived as a group to the meeting.

Rainbow City Taxis managing director Russell McLeod turned the air as blue as his suit after Uber was granted a licence in Aberdeen. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson
Rainbow City Taxis managing director Russell McLeod and other trade representatives outside the meeting. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Charged taxi crowd packed council gallery for Uber decision

More had packed the public gallery, shouting down on proceedings as councillors pondered over Uber’s application.

Those against fear the heavyweight will use its muscle to influence change to the city’s licensing process, which could include scrapping – rather than modernising – the street knowledge test.

Others in favour think it will improve their working conditions, hearing claims that Uber drivers in Glasgow and Edinburgh earn an average of £30 an hour, including pension, holiday and sick pay contributions.

“Hard luck, see you next time!” one pro-Uber cabbie yelled at a fellow driver as he slapped him hard on the back of the head at the Town House exit.

Uber plans to enlist around 50 private hire drivers to begin with in Aberdeen, before looking at helping new starts through the city’s licensing process.

Uber’s licence in Aberdeen comes amid well-documented taxi troubles

Nearly 500 people urged councillors to allow Uber into Aberdeen. There were only 26 objectors.

Drivers were encouraged to oppose by the trade representatives on the council’s powerful Taxi and Private Hire Car Consultation Group (TPHCG).

Luke Hulse, an independent driver rep on the group, even threatened those who were thinking of driving with Uber with blacklisting.

He sat next alongside Chris Douglas, head of Aberdeen Taxis, as he raised the trade’s concerns about Uber coming to Aberdeen.

On more than one occasion, Mr Douglas was chastised for straying too far in his speech – shouted down by Uber’s solicitor Caroline Loudon and licensing convener Gill Al-Samarai.

He was also reminded that the disability rep on the TPHCG, Hussein Patwa, had supported Uber’s plans, in the name of improving door-to-door transport options in Aberdeen.

The Disability Equity Partnership is “happy to wait and see how the Uber situation and offering develops,” he told us.

Claims Uber will ‘recklessly inflate charges’ for Aberdeen passengers

“Collectively, the TPHCG has decades of experience, dealing with tens of millions of trip requests, keeping our city moving through every era that has ever been seen in Aberdeen,” he said.

“The good, the bad and anything in between, we have been here serving Aberdeen.”

He hit out at alleged “mistruths” in the media aimed at “smearing” the trade as the problem, rather than the solution.

The TPHCG spokesman blasted Uber’s surge pricing which he expects to “recklessly inflate the costs well over 50% whenever their automated process perceives a surge in demand”.

Aberdeen Inspired chief executive Adrian Watson spoke in favour of bringing Uber to Aberdeen - as his organisation took credit for opening talks with Uber in the first place. Dominique Dawson, who works at Finnies, also supported Uber's application, claiming it would encourage her back into coming into Aberdeen city centre. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson
Aberdeen Inspired chief executive Adrian Watson spoke in favour of bringing Uber to Aberdeen – as his organisation took credit for opening talks with Uber in the first place. Dominique Dawson, who works at Finnies, also supported Uber’s application, claiming it would encourage her back into coming into Aberdeen city centre. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

But Uber argued the “dynamic” pricing structure would allow bumper pay for drivers who opted to work at unpopular times.

That could potentially mean more out on the streets when taxi rank queues are at their worst, in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Are all of Aberdeen taxi woes going to be solved by Uber?

But as private hire drivers, Uber’s cars won’t be allowed to pick up from the city’s ranks or be flagged down.

They will have to prebooked using the app.

Uber previously gained a licence to operate a taxi booking office in Aberdeen in 2018.

But the plans never went any further and the permit was surrendered a year later.

The Aberdeen taxi trade has faced criticism for being unable to clear queues at ranks, such as these on Union Street and Back Wynd, on busy Friday and Saturday nights. Image: Lauren Taylor/DC Thomson
The Aberdeen taxi trade has faced criticism for being unable to clear queues at ranks, such as these on Union Street and Back Wynd, on busy Friday and Saturday nights. Image: Lauren Taylor/DC Thomson

Taxi trade chiefs point to a lack of night buses as contributing to current problems, as well as driver numbers falling during the Covid pandemic.

Licensing changes resulted in many swapping their yellow taxi plates for red private hire plates, which precludes them from picking up fares on the street.

Pressing for modernisation of the licensing process to attract more drivers into the trade, industry reps argue Uber is not the answer to the city’s woes.

‘The people have spoken’

More than 90% of thousands of people surveyed by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce backed Uber’s expansion into Aberdeen.

And urging councillors to do so as well, the San Franciscan firm’s solicitor Caroline Loudon said: “The people have spoken.

“I have never seen the amount of positive support letters come in in my whole career.

“I think they seek efficiency, accessibility, cost effectiveness and to restore their own confidence in coming into the city centre – and as a licensing practitioner as a whole, I know how much that is needed for everybody.

“There has been a lot of mud slung, unsupported and unsubstantiated allegations. That’s unfortunate.

“This application is perfectly and competent and can be granted by this committee. And more than that, it should be.”

Uber: Aberdeen licence will support local economy

Uber sent three of its UK chiefs to sway Aberdeen City Council decision-makers.

But none of Uber UK and Ireland’s head of cities Matthew Freckelton, head of safety Paul Kane or head of compliance Jordan Little would take questions.

They are understood not to have headed to Uber’s Aberdeen HQ in Berry Street, instead leaving the Granite City to complete a tour of the company’s other Scottish operations.

Mr Freckelton is to head up the Uber office in Aberdeen and told councillors he would only be present when required for meetings.

A spokesman based in London later said: “This decision will help boost earning opportunities for drivers, provide passengers with greater transport options across the city and support the local economy.

“All drivers will have access to industry leading worker rights such as holiday pay and a pension, as well as formal representation through GMB Union.”

Read more:

Pub claims newlyweds forced to walk a rainy mile to their reception due to Aberdeen’s ‘severe lack of taxis’

Aberdeen taxi test ‘confuses would-be drivers with long-closed Neptune Bar as destination’

‘It would be a stab in the back’: Aberdeen taxi drivers call for Uber to be refused

Revealed: Why 485 people are urging council to seal Aberdeen Uber launch

Colin Farquhar: Aberdeen’s taxi drought problem needs a solution – so why not Uber?

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