Reading Borough Council's licensing committee turned down an application by a Mr Thomas Elvidge on behalf of Uber Britannia for a private hire operating licence.
The committee rejected the application to establish the company in the town because:
- there was insufficient evidence of demand
- no clear evidence about the number of vehicles that would be operating in Reading
- no clear indication of how or by whom the Uber office would be manned.
Licensing officer Jean Champeau raised concerns there was no “safe and lawful place” for the vehicle to park if Uber’s office was based in Davison House in The Forbury.
Mr Elvidge explained the Uber model to councillors, talking them through the process by which a customer can get straight through using an app on their mobile phone.
Customers can track their minicab as it drives through town, receive photo identity of their driver and their journey to their destination is also tracked.
But councillors were curious about the self employed drivers and wanted to know:
Clr Jeanette Skeats was particulary keen to find out how licensing officers or the police would be able to find a manager at night if there was a problem.
She wanted to know where Mr Elvidge would be and discovered that he was in charge of a massive area surrounding Greater London.
Cllr Marian Livingston questioned Mr Elvidge’s claim there was a demand because 20,000 people in the Reading area had already downloaded the app.
She suggested Uber might just be “trawled by phone app junkies who if they don’t have their phone in their hand they think they have had an amputation”.
The application was also opposed by chairman of Reading Taxi Association Asif Rashid who raised concerns about the Uber surge pricing which uses a computer algorithm to increase prices during periods of high demand to attract more drivers to the area.
Mr Rashid questioned Mr Elvidge as to how much more than the regular fare Uber’s prices could rise to - he asked if it was possible they might rise to five times the standard rate.
Mr Elvidge said that twice the rate was more usual but it could go as high as five times.
Mr Rashid said someone who had “drunk too much” could easily find themselves paying much more than they realised.
He was also concerned that drivers could come in from other borough and from as far away as London to answer calls to the app in Reading.
But his key argument was that there was no significant unmet demand in Reading for cabs.
Mr Rashid was able to point to the strong evidence from the three-year independent survey on unmet demand, which has to carry out if the council continues to cap the number of Hackney carriage licences it allows to be operating in the borough.
The independent consultants CTS, which carries out exhaustive surveys throughout Reading counting taxis at ranks all over the town, concluded: “There is no evidence of unmet demand for Hackney carriages either patent or latent which is significant at this point in time in Reading area.
“The committee is therefore able to retain the current policy and limit at the present level and defend this if necessary.”
In London, we've been told on countless occasions that there would need to be a national law change to introduce a cap on Private Hire vehicles licenses. It would appear from the above statement from Reading council that this is indeed not the case.
It appears that TfLTPH's compliance department don't seem to be concerned that Uber cannot be contacted outside normal office 9-5 time (which is when the majority of customer safety concerns are presented)
It would appear that Reading Council think more about members of the public being ripped off by extortionate surge pricing than TfLTPH management.
It would also appear to be of no concern to TfLTPH that the massive over supply of Uber vehicles, illegally park all around the WestEnd and City causing major nocturnal congestion.
We now wait with bated breath to see if Uber take on Reading council by continuing to supply vehicles through their app illegally in the Reading area. Uber have always professed they are not a minicab operator, but a technology company.