Licensing leaders refused Uber’s bid to branch out into Reading
UBER bosses have been refused permission to bring their app-based taxi booking service to Reading.
Councillors denied the bid after the company failed to prove it could meet the council’s guidelines including having a round the clock manned office.
Despite claims more than 20,000 people in the town had tried to access the mobile app in recent months the licensing applications sub-committee also said there was no evidence of demand for the service.
The system uses GPS and mobile data to find the nearest private hire vehicle and developers pride themselves on being able to guarantee quick pick up times by using people’s location and a competitive pricing system at busier times.
Speaking at last night’s meeting at Reading Borough Council’s Civic Offices Thomas Elvidge, general manager at Uber, called on members of the committee to give them the green light.
He said: “We are really excited about coming to Reading and really believe there is demand for the service.
“We can provide and enhancement and [what] for the industry and we really want to be here in Reading to do that.”
But councillors were unconvinced and quizzed Mr Elvidge on how customers could get in touch with problems if their office was not manned 24 hours.
Cllr Jeanette Skeats said: “So if there was a problem, and we do get problems sometimes in the trade where officers have to go around to your office, would there be someone in charge?
“The buck has to stop somewhere.”
Uber’s legal representative assured members that contact could be made by posting a review through the app despite there being no phone number to call.
He said: “If it’s to do with a fare then that will be dealt with in one way but – and we hope this would never happen – if there was an allegation of a verbal or physical abuse you would get a phone call from us.”
Issues were also raised about the firm’s so-called surge pricing model which seeks to discourage certain customers by increasing the cost of a journey at peak times to ensure supply does not outstrip demand.
Asif Rashid, chairman of Reading Taxi Association, said: “I can assure you Reading is a notorious place for bad traffic and for drivers of private hire cars there are places in the town centre they cannot go when it’s busy.
“But if those drivers are suddenly stuck in traffic then your surge pricing will kick in.”
Mr Rashid added concerns that drunk customers would not be aware how much they were paying until the following day.
Refusing the application for a private hire vehicle operator’s licence committee chairman Cllr Paul Woodward said: “Having considered the case and all the representations we have decided to refuse to grant Thomas Elvidge a private hire vehicle operator’s licence due to not being considered a fit and proper person.”
Their reasons included not meeting the licence conditions, not having a manned office and lack of clarity on vehicle numbers.
Speaking after the meeting an Uber spokesperson said: “Uber has been granted more than 40 operator licences by local councils across the country so we’re extremely surprised and disappointed by last night’s decision.
“In every town and city we operate we bring new economic opportunities for people who want to be their own boss and make money by being a licensed private hire driver.
“Millions of people across the UK regularly use Uber to get a convenient, safe and affordable ride at the push of a button.
“We remain convinced there’s real demand for Uber in Reading as more than 22,000 people in the town have opened our app in the last 90 days alone.”