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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 PeakIF you’ve caught an Uberin Newcastle, it was most likely outside a Hamiltonpubjust before midnight.
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A year since itlaunchedin Newcastle, the ride-sharing company says its50,000 local customers haveused their smartphones torequest rides from about 500 drivers.

The Sydney Junction Hotel in Hamilton is the most popularpick-up spot, followed by the Honeysuckle Hotel, the Cambridge Hotel in Newcastle West, and the bar and restaurant stripsofBeaumont and Darby streets.

It is less clear how many Uber trips have beentaken 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 topNewcastle drivers inthe 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 11pmon Fridaysand especially Saturdays, and there is a smaller spike on Wednesdaysat 10pm.

Ms Benson drives peak-time shifts that can last several hours, collecting passengers frominner-city pubs linedwithcabs.

“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 andride-sharing has been criticised by bodies such as the NSW Taxi Council, which say cabbiesare held to stricter standards of service for all passengers.

One taxi driver told the Newcastle Heraldthat 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 usingtaxis 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, andthe high numberof 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 tobe used to build Uber’sown digital maps, in a way similar to the collectionfor Google Maps, but with ride-specificinformation such as thestreet segmentsbest suited to pick-ups and drop-offs.

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