Explainer: Why are people in Bristol finding it so difficult to get Uber rides?

‘Nearly every time I open the app it waits and waits until it says ‘no drivers available’ - in the centre of Bristol on a Thursday night?!’
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As lockdown lifts, people in Bristol have complained of ‘outrageously high’ fares and longer waiting times for app-based cab companies such as Uber.

Several possible factors have contributed to this which include a lack of drivers, surge pricing and drivers using rival apps.

While unions have suggested that the fuel crisis has meant drivers have had to turn down longer trips, due to not having enough petrol.

Passengers have complained of being left ‘stranded’ in the centre of Bristol late at night and have accused drivers of not accepting ‘decent’ fares.

Here BristolWorld takes a look at why it has become harder to catch a ride in the city on the minicab apps.

What passengers are saying

After similar complaints in London, Twitter user @DA__writes said it wasn’t just in the capital where Uber had ‘nosedived’ - the same thing ‘is happening in Bristol’.

“Nearly every time I open the app it waits and waits until it says ‘no drivers available’ - in the centre of Bristol on a Thursday night?!” they tweeted.

“Then there’s the surge pricing that seems to happen all the time.

“It’s hugely erratic - often within just a few seconds - and is frequently outrageously high.

An Uber in Bristol.An Uber in Bristol.
An Uber in Bristol.

“[Uber] became popular because [they] took on established taxi services that had become arrogant and overpriced.

“[They are] now at serious risk of becoming that exact same thing.”

Dave Cliff (@davecliff), a professor of Computer Science at the University of Bristol, claimed that Uber ‘strung along and stranded’ his teenage daughter as she tried to get from one side of the city to the other.

“Uber in Bristol is terrible with sequences of drivers accepting and then cancelling rides, huge total wait-times before a car actually arrives,” he said. “Happens lots to me.”

Twitter user @SpAM_CAN said they had had problems with Uber drivers refusing to take rides from them, even though they offered a ‘decent fare’.

They tweeted: “Plenty of guys on the roads, all refusing to take a fare. What even is the point of your service if your drivers refuse to drive!?”

They added: “I signed up for Uber because, in my experience, cab companies in Bristol had been often unreliable and at times outright hostile.

“The service was simply better, and I felt overall more comfortable using a service like Uber that features some accountability for their drivers.”

What are the unions saying?

James Farrar, general secretary of the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU), said due to petrol shortages in recent weeks there were less cars available to pick up passengers and longer journeys were refused.

He said: “App operators such as Uber and Bolt can play their part by immediately raising the prices so that the scarce supply is allocated more efficiently and passengers have a more reliable service. “

The union called for strike action over Uber’s failure to implement the Supreme Court ruling to pay waiting time, which it says makes up around 40 per cent of an Uber driver’s working time.

Have you struggled to catch a ride from Uber or Bolt in Bristol? (Photo illustration by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)Have you struggled to catch a ride from Uber or Bolt in Bristol? (Photo illustration by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
Have you struggled to catch a ride from Uber or Bolt in Bristol? (Photo illustration by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

It also disputed the introduction of fixed-price fares which union bosses claim has led to reduced driver incomes and greater financial risk.

The union is demanding for Uber to pay all working time including waiting time and respect the Supreme Court ruling and an end to up front pricing.

What private cabs are saying

David Lawrie, from National Private Hire and Cab Association, said that the lack of financial support for cab drivers during the pandemic resulted in many leaving the industry and finding work elsewhere.

“The pandemic, or more importantly, the lack of financial support for our industry, resulted in a heck of a lot of cars being repossessed,” he said.

“A lot of drivers found alternative work such as courier driving, food deliveries such as Just Eat and Domino’s in order to pay their bills and feed their families.

“Many of those will not return to the industry, in fact for those who were unfortunate enough to have their vehicles repossessed, they will now be blacklisted and as such not be able to obtain another vehicle on finance for at least 6 years.

“The time it takes to obtain badges for new drivers is quite lengthy, so the turnaround is not as quick for the taxi and private hire industry as it would be for other walks of life such as Asda workers or even builders.”

How will the issue be resolved?

Uber insists that the problem isn’t that drivers are leaving the industry, but there has been an increase in demand.

“We have seen a huge spike in demand since the end of lockdown, with many cities now seeing demand 20% to 40% higher than it was before the pandemic,” an Uber spokesperson said.

“This does mean that at the moment some riders are waiting a little longer in busy areas at peak times, although 65% of rides still arrive in less than 5 minutes and 91% arrive in less than 10 minutes.

“There are around 70,000 drivers working on the app today in the UK, which is similar to the number before the pandemic. “But due to the high demand for our service we are also actively recruiting 20,000 more drivers to help get the service back to normal.”

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