Updated 9th August 2023
Do you have Uber over here, or when is Uber coming to the Island?
Apart from Peter Kays "have you been busy tonight"? these are two of the questions that I and other taxi drivers get asked quite a lot, often just as we arrive to pick up passengers after they have been staring in disbelief at their smartphone screen for half an hour or so! Disbelief that this small rural community does not have Uber.
Well to clear this up and set the record straight right away the answer is no, Uber are not here on the Isle of Wight and to be honest I cannot see them coming here anytime soon.
To clarify my statement here are some of the reasons why I personally do not see them coming.
Yes, Uber is good for the passengers that use them, but apart from that they are no good at all for the drivers.
They are good for passengers because they are allegedly cheap and there are plenty of them. "I never have to wait long for an Uber" and "I just tap my phone and in 10 minutes one turns up". Just two of the statements we hear.
So that's the good things out of the way but let's just address these two statements in more detail.
All of Ubers drivers are self employed owner drivers, in very much the same as the vast majority of taxi drivers, as in they own the vehicle or lease/pay finance on it, pay hire and reward insurance, (which is not cheap by any means), maintenance costs and fuel etc etc.
Uber themselves work to the business model to flood the market, and by that I mean as far as they are concerned the more vehicles they have out there equals more profit from the cut that the drivers give them.
Great news for Uber but not so great if you are a driver with just a limited pool of customers such as we have over here on the Isle of Wight.
Uber makes it all sound so good for prospective drivers that it is hard to resist the temptation to go and drive for them but the reality of driving taxis in small areas such as this are manifold.
Well for starters, where are the drivers going to come from?
All, and I mean all drivers in the UK have to be licensed by the local authority, in our case the Isle of Wight council.
So you can see one problem arising already, driver recruitment. Most drivers who would qualify to drive Uber are already doing this for a living with there own taxis, so are they really going tio give that up, sell the vehicle just so they can go and buy a Toyota Prius and drive for Uber? I know I wouldn't.
Lets secondly look at how Uber works. You download the App onto your smartphone. Once downloaded you register and give your debit or credit card details to Uber so you can be charged when your journey is complete. So far so good.
Uber relies on having a good reliable internet connection because it uses your phones GPS and the nearest available drivers also.
Ever tried to access the internet in parts of Niton, Bouldner, Alum Bay or various other parts depending on what network you are using? How is the driver going to find you when you cannot be geolocated, never mind how you are going to be accurately charged for your journey if they do manage to find you.
This is why they mainly operate in the big cities, full of people and good to excellent network connections.
Now lets look at the demographics here. We have one of the highest per head of population in the South for the over 65 age group. I feel sure most of them have the latest iPhone or Pixel 3.
This leads onto the question of is it even financially viable for Uber to come to the Isle of Wight.
I know if I were them and speaking as someone who has done this for just over 25 years then the answer to that is a resounding no!
In areas where Uber already operate the driver retention rate is very low. The pie is only so big and the more drivers that want a slice of it the less there is for the drivers that remain.
So what happens is they work longer and longer hours for less and less money until they cannot afford to continue to drive for Uber.
If they ever do come here, yes of course you can. But before you commit to the expense of doing so why not apply to an already existing taxi firm here and see if this is for you. There are plenty of vacancies every week in the County Press.
I would suggest just doing your own research on them, its business model and practises and drawing your own conclusions.
There is no Uber operating on the Isle of Wight at this present time. Will that change? Maybe, but I cannot see it happening anytime soon although I have been known to be wrong in the past!
As an update please read this interesting article by Aaron Benanav from The Guardian. Updated 25/08/2020
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