Belfast Telegraph

Uber 'to expand to every town in Northern Ireland'

By John Mulgrew

Taxi app Uber is aiming to have drivers "in every town across the country", the firm's Northern Ireland boss has indicated.

Kieran Harte said there were more than 200 Uber drivers in Belfast alone, with around 30,000 users downloading the program since the firm launched in the city six months ago.

"Our target is really to have Ubers in every town across the country," Mr Harte told the Belfast Telegraph at the Digital DNA conference.

"We think we will expand organically outside of Belfast. We are doing quite a few trips to Lisburn and Bangor, so that would be an organic growth.

"We are seeing some exciting things in smaller US cities, and seeing some staff back in Australia, where I'm from. We are seeing seasonal pop-ups - cities that have a lot of population move to them in the summer are starting to have Uber arrive there when the people are there.

"We have exceeded our expectations in growing. We have pretty set growth paths."

While setting up in Londonderry could also be on the cards, Mr Harte cautioned: "Derry is probably a different story - it would need more of a launch and more focus.

"We think (that the city is big enough). The efficiency we are driving makes it more and more applicable."

Uber is also getting around a change in taxi laws that would have seen drivers forced to install printers in their cars, among other measures. The company's drivers are moving to what's known as a class C licence, which defines them as chauffeurs that have to be pre-booked but who do not have to display the traditional taxi sign.

"We are delighted that we found a way with the minister and with Driver and Vehicle Agency to continue our business here," Mr Harte said.

Louise Guido, chief of Mobile phone technology company ChangeCorp, also praised Northern Ireland's tech sector.

"(Belfast) is very innovative, and very willing to learn," she said. "What's cool about the city is that you have a young environment, you have a tech-savvy environment and also an environment that looks outward as well as inward.

"The main message is, mobile is just beginning - it's not even hitting its sweet spot.

"What I love about Belfast is, that you had the Troubles, but you are focused on how to build your business and you are using technology to do that.

"If I were running Belfast and I were advising the powers that be, I would make Belfast a mobile incubator.

"One of the challenges is being down the road from Dublin, which has cornered the market in terms of outsourcing and technology.

"Belfast is much more nimble. If you could find a spot that no one has really cornered, mobile incubator would be it."

Dismissing fears that a Brexit would negatively affect the tech sector, she added: "I see that (the impact in more tangible types of business, and more tangible types of technology.

"Mobile technology is border-less, and investment can happen anywhere."

US-based ChangeCorp builds mobile learning applications and currently works with a number of big-name clients, including Facebook.

Belfast Telegraph