Uber Belfast goes live: US taxi app firm arrives in Northern Ireland
Uber, the world's biggest taxi company, launched in Belfast at 4pm on Friday.
As exclusively revealed by belfasttelegraph.co.uk, the taxi booking firm invited drivers along to an information session last week and from today they are available for hire.
And, for the first time ever, Uber cars will have roof signs to advertise that they are available, something no other city in the world has required the firm to do.
Uber launched in 2009 and has rapidly expanded across the world and is now available in over 300 cities across 67 countries.
It is one of the world’s biggest companies and has been hailed as the fastest growing organisation of all time.
Uber has been reported to have a value in the region of $50billion.
Today’s launch in Belfast is the company’s first in Northern Ireland.
People in need of a taxi simply download the app, it recognises where they are and they can book the nearest cab.
Once dispatched, the customer can see the driver’s photo, name and car registration and can watch the cab travel to them.
Drivers are all fully registered and insured as private hire. They also have to pass an enhanced disclosure and barring service before Uber will take them on.
Customers also have to registered their details with Uber including their credit card.
Fares begin at £2, then £1.10 a mile and 10p per minute. A journey from Belfast City hall to the city airport - depending on traffic - would cost between £7 and £8.
That’s similar to what other firms in Northern Ireland would charge for the same journey.
While smartphones are used by the customer and driver, the devices do not meter the journeys but instead send the travel details to a server for correct calculation.
Taxi drivers have said the registration requirements for customers and the cashless system help aid their safety.
“It’s seamless,” said Kieran Harte, general manager for Uber Belfast.
“Passengers hit a button, the technology knows where they are and as soon as the driver accepts you can watch the car make its way to you.
“It’s empowering for the drivers, they decide when they work and when they are not working they have nothing to pay.”
The firm employs four people in its Belfast office. Drivers are not employed directly by Uber, but are instead partners.
Unique to Uber is that passengers and drivers rate each other at the end of their journey. There have been cases when passengers have been refused service because of bad bahaviour.
Kieran added: “It’s a really strong way for us to ensure accountability and really good levels of service for both passengers and drivers.
“It’s a great relief for the drivers that we are looking after their safety and that we hold customers to the same high level of standards that we expect from them."
Since the Telegraph broke the story, Uber said demand has been phenomenal from drivers wanting to sign up.
Usually the company operates for a period to allow it to build up drivers before fully advertising its availability.
While the company said hundreds had expressed an interest in being a driver, it could not say how many will be on the streets under an Uber sign today.
Crucially, the Saturday night/Sunday morning onslaught of trying to hail a cab to get home looks set to remain, for a while at least.
Kieran added: “We are asking our customers to be patient.
“We know there is lots of demand for our app, over 10,000 already have it in Belfast and have been looking to use it in the city even before we said we were coming.
“This weekend will be very busy with people wanting to trial our service for the first time and it will take us time to bring on more drivers to try and meet supply.”
Thousands have welcomed the company's arrival on a poll on the Belfast Telegraph's website.
Adrian Hanna runs a successful bed and breakfast in the north of the city.
The 50-year-old former graphic designer is among the first in the city to sign up for Uber and is just waiting on the necessary paperwork from the Department of Environment before hitting the streets in his new car.
He said: “I am very used to this platform of working online with the B&B.
“We have guests coming from all over the world and they assume we have Uber here.
"There is the added security of the cashless system and there isn't the fear people will do a runner on you.
“I have been following Uber for a couple of years and once I saw they were coming here I jumped at the chance.
“It is very well-known around the world and it is exciting."