Is Uber Losing Its Brand Appeal?

What an odd decision yesterday. No -- not the Boris one, but TfL's granting a licence extension to Uber for just two extra months. Most had assumed they would not get the five years requested, but would probably get a year or so instead. Two months, though? It just sounds odd.

When pressed by several newspapers on the issue, the stock answer has been that the authority that regulates buses, cabs and tubes wanted some extra time to be shown paperwork as proof of improvement. There was no expansion as to what areas TfL still needs reassurance about. 

Uber is claiming it as a victory nonetheless, and as proof that it has cleaned up its act. It's fair to say that it has put some extra safety features on its app, such as trusted friends and family being able to track a journey and banning drivers for working more than a ten-hour shift. 

The announcement of a two-month licence extension came with the demand that Uber must ensure that drivers and passengers are fully insured and that driver document checks take place. Perhaps this is the area where Uber needs to show proof of improvement, given that regulator saw fit to name them as conditions?

The company has ditched its controversial leader, paid its fine for losing data and appears to have improved safety aspects through new app features. It's a little more proof that its drivers are checked and insured and it looks likely the two-month extension will turn into a full-blown longer licence. 

The one thing Uber hasn't fixed, however, is its brand reputation. I would suggest that people don't have an affinity with the brand, but they use it as a convenient way of hailing a low-cost ride. Research from Global Web Index has revealed half of us think the company should be granted a licence, but that means the other half either want it banned or aren't bothered either way.

I suspect the drivers may feel the same way, and interestingly, there is some evidence of this. Wired points out that there is a trend for drivers to switch between apps from rivals to see whether they can pick up more lucrative fares from providers that take a smaller cut from a trip and are offering bonus payments. These new companies, such as Bolt and Kapten, do not come with the brand-damage baggage associated with Uber and so are starting to gain traction. 

Let's not also forget that Londoners can book a black cab via Gett or TaxiApp, offering the convenience of Uber with the reassurance of a fully licensed, iconic vehicle with a driver who has passed "the knowledge," and so knows the best route without blindly following a sat nav. 

So, the game has moved on considerably since Uber first launched in London.

Competition is fierce from other mini cab-hailing businesses and black-cab apps. It now has much more to fear than TfL's decision on its fate.

Drivers and customers switching to rival apps will be the new battleground when the two-month licence is extended for a longer period.

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