Uber officially arrives in the county, a year after launching in Edinburgh

Chris Yiu & William Gordon pictured at National Mining Museum, Lady Victoria Colliery, Newtongrange.
Chris Yiu & William Gordon pictured at National Mining Museum, Lady Victoria Colliery, Newtongrange.

A cashless taxi smartphone app which has been used more than two billion times across the world has now officially arrived in Midlothian.

But will this new way of getting around the county pick up passengers and drivers from local private hire taxi firms?

Uber users book and pay for a private hire car ride directly through a smartphone app. Once confirmed, the passenger can see the driver’s photo, name and car registration and watch their car arrive in real-time on the app.

The company has been granted a private hire booking licence by Midlothian Council, and had been operating here since the turn of the month.

Chris Yiu, general manager for Uber in Scotland, is confident that the service will be a success in Midlothian.

He said: “The reason we have grown and been so successful is when you add it all up it’s a really magical experience for people. They are blown away by how easy it is.

“We started in Edinburgh a year ago. We always start in big cities as that’s where the demand is – but over time we have seen people make trips to Midlothian, and as word spread we have had more demand.

“We knew Midlothian was a good bet as we have seen over 10,000 people from there use the app. Before, an Edinburgh car would pick them up from Edinburgh and take them to say Bonnyrigg.

“But you couldn’t go back into Edinburgh as that’s how the licence works. Now you can go from Bonnyrigg to Dalkeith or Loanhead to Rosslyn Chapel.

“Demand spreads by word of mouth for passengers, and it’s the same with drivers.

“Maybe people who had taxi licences for a while and want to switch to Uber because it’s a better prospect for them. Some of them maybe had their own small private hire business. They come to us because it takes away all the admin and hassle of running a small private hire firm.

“Everybody driving on the platform has to have their private hire driver’s licence, which triggers a Police Scotland background check.”

Chris believes that Midlothian people will use the service, but he doesn’t think that it will kill off standard taxis.

“It is probably fair to say that, traditionally, it’s younger people who use the service but that’s changing quite quickly,” he said. “In the same way that if you had asked me who has a smartphone just a couple of years ago you would say mostly young people. Not now.

“We do see older people using the app to stay mobile and stay in touch with friends, even if they might be retired.

“There will always be room for black cabs. They can rank up in the way that private hires can’t, and pick up off the street. There are different modes of transport for different purposes and the best thing is for people to have choice.

“What I hope is that it will make it easier to get around Midlothian and for people to get to where they need to go, giving people a very reliable convenient and affordable option.”

However, will this way of working be successful in a more rural area? And how will this service impact on private taxi hire companies operating in the county? William Forsyth has been self-employed for three years as a one-man private taxi hire firm. Interested in the competition, William tried life as an Uber driver during its first weekend here.

He said: “It’s not a worry at the moment only because a lot of the way they work is different to a private hire taxi. You sometimes take less than the minimum wage with Uber. At any one time they could have thousands of cars on the road.

“In Edinburgh now during peak times or when there are not enough drivers they put charges up to up to five times the normal rate. They did approach me to go into Edinburgh but I said no. Then they approached me again when they came to Midlothian.

“I signed up to Uber to give it a shot. I have registered as a rider and a driver, as I can’t judge it if I haven’t tried it.

“It might work for a while when there are plenty of drivers on and it’s cheap, but the minute it gets busy and the ‘surge’ price starts, anybody out here is going to get a private hire taxi – so I’m not worried at all.

“I did the weekend with them and I found that it was mostly tourists using it. Of the 22 jobs I did only two or three of the people were from Midlothian.

“One of the big issues is that drivers rely on reviews. That will cause a lot of problems for a lot of people. We are not American but with Uber you feel like you are on stage, you have to impress. As a normal Scottish taxi driver it’s just about doing our job and getting people to where they want to go.

“However, if it gets bigger in Midlothian and works out then yes, I would do it again. It does take a lot of the hassle away.

“But the biggest issue is that Uber take 25 per cent of every fare.

“That’s off an already discounted fare. That’s how they are as big as they are.”

Matthew Sheering of Star Cars isn’t worried about Uber.

He said: “We concentrate mainly on contracts. Uber is not a worry to us.

“It will maybe take the street work away but it will be six years until they can get on the council framework and bid for contracts. We will maybe have to worry about it then, but I’m alright at the moment, I’m quite happy.”