Uber is to extend its reach in London by taking to the water, with the Thames Clippers commuter service to be rebranded Uber Boat and bookable through the US companys app.
A formal partnership will be launched this summer, allowing Uber users to book a Thames river journey through the app, and board using a QR code on their phone. Uber will buy the naming rights for the 20-strong fleet of river boats and Thames Clippers piers from Putney to Woolwich, in a rolling contract expected to last for at least three years.
A move into fix-scheduled commuter boats is a first for Uber. Users will still pay the same price and although there are hopes for an integrated service, for now they will not be able to book an end-to-end journey with a connecting car. Thames Clippers tickets will still be available to buy elsewhere and the boats remain part of the Oyster network.
Sean Collins, Thames Clippers co-founder and chief executive, said: “In our 22nd year of operation it is key that we continue to support London and its commuters with the ease of lockdown and return to work. The new partnership will allow us to link the two travel modes of river and road, providing Londoners and visitors with even more options to commute, visit, explore and enjoy our city by river.”
Ubers regional general manager for northern and eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood, said: “Many Londoners are looking for new ways to travel around the city, particularly when they start commuting back to work.”
The boat service resumed on 15 June after being closed when the coronavirus outbreak took hold. It has reduced capacity and passengers must wear face masks, in line with Transport for London (TfL) guidance. Last year 4.3m passengers used the Thames Clippers service, which remains majority-owned by AEG, the owner-operators of the O2entertainment venue.
TfL has yet to renew Ubers licence to operate private hire cars in London. Ubers application for a new licence was rejected in November because of safety fears after some drivers were found to have faked their identity. It has been allowed to continue operating pending an appeal – which was originally due to have been heard in a magistrates court this week. However, because of the impact of the pandemic on TfLs resources, the hearing has been postponed until September.
TfL said it granted licences to river operators such as Thames Clippers “who comply with our high safety standards” but played no role in any partnerships with other businesses and organisations.