Pubs, clubs are Newcastle Uber hotspots

EARLY ADOPTER: Uber driver Kay Benson, 62, outside one of the service's hotspots, the Cambridge Hotel. The ride-sharing app launched in Newcastle a year ago and now has 500 local drivers. Picture: Simone De Peak
EARLY ADOPTER: Uber driver Kay Benson, 62, outside one of the service's hotspots, the Cambridge Hotel. The ride-sharing app launched in Newcastle a year ago and now has 500 local drivers. Picture: Simone De Peak

IF you’ve caught an Uber in Newcastle, it was most likely outside a Hamilton pub just before midnight.

A year since it launched in Newcastle, the ride-sharing company says its 50,000 local customers have used their smartphones to request rides from about 500 drivers.

The Sydney Junction Hotel in Hamilton is the most popular pick-up spot, followed by the Honeysuckle Hotel, the Cambridge Hotel in Newcastle West, and the bar and restaurant strips of Beaumont and Darby streets.

It is less clear how many Uber trips have been taken to the airport, or between the University of Newcastle and the city.

But for both its users and its detractors, Uber has changed the city’s transport habits in a year. Kay Benson, 62, is one of the top Newcastle drivers in the app’s user-rated system.

“I don’t even look at that, I just give people rides. The most important thing, I think, is to keep an open mind and your sense of humour,” Ms Benson, of Broadmeadow, said.

“I was a mum taxi for years. Now I get paid for it.”

Uber trips in Newcastle spike at 11pm on Fridays and especially Saturdays, and there is a smaller spike on Wednesdays at 10pm.

Ms Benson drives peak-time shifts that can last several hours, collecting passengers from inner-city pubs lined with cabs.

“Do I feel unsafe? No, I really don’t. You always have the option not to take a job,” she said.

“Sure, [passengers] might be drunk, but most people just want to go home to bed.”

Uber and ride-sharing has been criticised by bodies such as the NSW Taxi Council, which say cabbies are held to stricter standards of service for all passengers.

One taxi driver told the Newcastle Herald that Uber “has probably taken 25 per cent of our work” on Friday and Saturday nights.

“When the Knights play and get a crowd of 20,000 people, you used to get about 10 per cent using taxis to get to the football,” he said.

“Now even that’s starting to erode.”

But Uber, a multi-billion dollar company headquartered in San Francisco, emphasizes its ease of access for international visitors to Newcastle, and the high number of local female drivers.

One in five “driver-partners” in Newcastle are women, it says, twice the national average.

The company has also announced, “to celebrate one year of ride-sharing in Newcastle”, that it will roll Uber mapping cars through the city.

The cars will collect and record data to be used to build Uber’s own digital maps, in a way similar to the collection for Google Maps, but with ride-specific information such as the street segments best suited to pick-ups and drop-offs.