UBER will launch permanently in Newcastle on Thursday, making the city the second in NSW after Sydney to adopt the US ride-sharing giant.
The globally popular service, which connects drivers and passengers through a smartphone app, will be a new way to commute for Novocastrians underserved by public transport, Uber NSW general manager Henry Greenacre said.
Ahead of Thursday’s midday launch more than 10,000 people in Newcastle had downloaded the Uber app, and the company had cleared 100 drivers to start moving passengers.
As reported by the Newcastle Herald, Newcastle Airport and the University of Newcastle are within the Uber passenger pick-up zone.
The pick-up zone will extend as far west as the M1 Motorway and as far south as Gosford.
Uber has no immediate plans to expand into Maitland or the Hunter Valley.
Only the standard Uber X will initially be offered to Newcastle passengers, rather than the more expensive, corporate-focused Uber Black.
Uber’s entry to the Newcastle market prompted cautionary calls from the NSW Taxi Council for authorities to scrutinise its operations.
“Of critical importance is that all point-to-point service providers operate on a level playing field and comply with relevant laws,” the Taxi Council’s chief executive Roy Wakelin-King said.
But the state Uber boss said cab companies would continue to enjoy unfettered access to rank and hail fares, which comprise 70 per cent of the car passenger market.
“We’re only really competing in 30 per cent of their market,” Mr Greenacre said.
Ride-sharing companies cannot legally use cab ranks or bus zones in NSW, and it was unclear before Thursday’s launch where at the airport Uber passengers would be collected and dropped.
Newcastle Airport chief executive Peter Cock said he supported widening the range of options for passengers to travel to and from the airport.
“We are working with Uber to facilitate a smooth commencement of operations at Newcastle Airport,” Dr Cock said.
Kaii Fallander, 25, drove for Uber last year during the free trial the company offered passengers in Newcastle following the April storm.
She told the Herald she planned to accept jobs on the Uber system to pick up passengers while studying psychology at university, to supplement her income as a surf instructor.
“The passengers so far have been awesome,” Ms Fallander, of Newcastle East, said.
“You actually meet a lot of people, and not all young. Some are really nice older couples.”
Uber operates without cash by taking passengers’ payment details before allowing them to request rides through the app.
To mark its arrival, the company has offered new customers their first ride for free, to the value of $20, anywhere in Newcastle and the Central Coast.