Juliette Bains: Controversial new taxi app is getting Leeds in a spin

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DID YOU wake up this morning with a sore head, a vague sense of unease and an empty purse?

Well then, it must be New Year’s Day!

Before you feel brave enough to rifle through those receipts in the bottom of your bag in a bid to piece the evening together, let me ask you a quick question.

Can you remember how much your cab home was yesterday? Or what company it was from?

No doubt some of you who were out in Leeds last night will have flagged down any old taxi with your friends and hopped into it after a brazen bartering process that wouldn’t have been out of place in your average cattle market.

But some of you may have jumped on board with the latest high-tech taxi service that’s new to Leeds.

Uber arrived in the city last month – just in time for some of the busiest taxi nights of the year – and it’s already been getting some people in a spin.

In case you haven’t heard, Uber is an app that cuts out the middleman of a taxi company by connecting passengers and drivers at the touch of a button.

Customers can request a vehicle and the nearest driver is dispatched.

No cash changes hands either, as the charge is automatically processed through the passenger’s registered card details.

The concept may sound simple, but it’s one that has certainly taken off.

The $18bn private care hire service – which, by the way, happens to be backed by none other than global giant Google – now operates in more than 200 cities around the world after just five years, and has been doubling in size every six months.

And taking a look around, that certainly seems the case in Leeds, as I’ve seen more Uber cars on the road in the past few days than ever before.

It’s not all been plain sailing for Uber though and the concept has really got people’s backs up in some places. Some cab firms and regulators are fighting it, and local taxi companies even held a protest after it announced it would branch out to Leeds last month.

Taxi drivers in central London also took to the streets to protest over the app and what they saw as a lack of regulation.

And it’s even been banned in some European cities.

On the one hand, I can see the annoyance that a global company is coming in and making waves in a long-standing and important sector of Leeds’ economy.

But the age of the app is well and truly upon us, and almost every business needs to jump on the smartphone bandwagon these days if it wants to remain successful.

In the end, I doubt the protests will make much difference though and, as with all businesses, price and convenience will dictate how people choose to travel and how successful the service is.

In the past few weeks though, Uber’s also been in the news for bumping up prices during the Sydney hostage situation and, more worryingly, alleged sexual assaults on passengers.

App or no app, Uber or no Uber, the most important factor is safety, particularly when we’re talking about a form of transport people rely on so heavily when they’re very vulnerable.

Leeds City Council recently announced it was looking into tightening up the licence checking procedure and I for one am all for it if it means passengers are that little bit safer.

I would hope that the review would mean Uber cabs are kept on just as tight of a leash as every other firm as we head into 2015.

That way, whatever industry in-fighting there may be, the only thing we’ll have to worry about after a night out is the hangover.

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