THE BLOG

Why UberPool Could Be a Game-Changer for London

04/12/2015 08:18 GMT | Updated 03/12/2016 10:12 GMT

A quick pub quiz. When does use of Uber peak in London? Closing time. In fact you can figure out the licensing laws in most cities around the world by looking at our data. My second question - why does this matter? Because some people believe Uber is responsible for increasing congestion on the capital's streets and want to restrict the service as a result.

The trouble is the facts don't bear this out. Today there are nearly three million cars registered in London. Just over 20,000 are with Uber - of which only 4,000 are on the road at any one time. And if you look at the congestion zone during charging hours, Uber accounts for less than three per cent of the traffic. According to Transport for London the level of traffic has not changed all that much in the last decade. It did fall during the 2008 recession but bounced back once the economy recovered.

The most recent national statistics from the Department for Transport also show that while car traffic is increasing at about two per cent a year - most likely as a result of economic growth and low petrol prices - that's still below its 2007 peak. By comparison traffic from vans is growing at six per cent, and now accounts for 15 per cent of the total. That's a 300 hundred fold increase in the last decade. It seems we've morphed from being a nation of shopkeepers to one of internet shoppers.

What's crystal clear though is that London's population is growing fast - up 15% in the last ten years - and that trend looks set to continue. So getting around town is only going to get harder. There's no single solution to this challenge. Partly it's about making London more bicycle-friendly and partly it's about better public transport. Investments like Crossrail will help move people around more quickly and easily. But these projects are costly and take time, while apps such as Uber can help use our existing infrastructure more efficiently today, and at no extra cost.

Passengers simply push a button and get a ride within minutes. It doesn't matter where they are are or where they are going. There is no destination discrimination or refusals based on what people look like or where they live. And if the train, tube or bus doesn't get them the whole way home, Uber can make up the last mile. In London more than a third of our trips start or end within 200 metres of a tube stop - helping complement today's public transportation infrastructure. And more than four in ten Uber journeys are now in energy efficient hybrid cars that produce less pollution.

But this is just the start. In cities like San Francisco and Paris we see lots of passengers wanting to go in the same direction at the exact same time. Our uberPOOL service makes it possible for those people to share a car - cutting the cost of a trip and helping to reduce congestion at the same time. It's about getting more bums on seats in the back of the car. And we've just announced plans to launch POOL in London, starting this Friday.

Over time this could become a real game-changer for a city where a million people still drive to work each day with nobody else in the car. Because when getting a ride is as cheap and as easy as picking up your keys, walking outside and turning on the ignition - well, why own a car at all?

Compulsory five minute wait times and caps on the number of drivers that can use services like Uber - as some are proposing - will turn the clock back. Because if the number of cars cannot keep up with demand at our busiest times, waiting times or prices will have to increase. And unless people are guaranteed a ride within minutes they just won't give up their cars. This is especially true in the outskirts, where people often drive because taxis and public transport options are more limited.

To reduce congestion we need to ensure that London can effectively handle its growing population as well as encourage people who commute by car that there's a better alternative. There's no simple solutions to these challenges. But getting more people to share their journeys and providing credible alternatives to car ownership are important parts of the answer. There's a world out there that doesn't move like a traffic jam and look like a car park.

Jo Bertram is Regional General Manager of Uber in the UK