Uber to offer boat rides in London as new commuter service

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You’ll soon be able to use the Uber app to book boat journeys in London, thanks to a new partnership between the ride-hail company and Thames Clippers, The Guardian reports. The partnership will see the existing 20-strong fleet of boats and 23 piers between Putney and Woolwich branded as “Uber Boats by Thames Clippers,” and the service will continue to be operated by the river bus service, The Evening Standard reports.

The multiyear partnership is Uber’s latest attempt to diversify its business after being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in May, the company reported a $2.9 billion quarterly loss, and it has since laid off thousands of employees. Along with diversifying its transport business with this new boat service, Uber has invested in delivery services. Earlier this week, it acquired meal delivery company Postmates for $2.65 billion.

Users will be able to book a ride on an Uber Boat using the company’s app, which will generate a QR code that can be used to board. However, the boats will differ from Uber’s existing ride-hailing service in that they’ll operate on set routes, as they do currently. Londoners will continue to be able to use existing payment methods to pay for their journeys, including contactless cards and Oyster cards, The Evening Standard reports.

The partnership comes as London is reckoning with how people should get around while obeying social distancing guidelines, and Uber is arguing that its boats could offer a better solution than crowded underground carriages. Passengers will be required to wear face masks in line with Transport for London (TfL) guidance, and staff will have PPE. London is also investing in its cycling infrastructure as a result of the pandemic, and the British government has fast-tracked its e-scooter rental trials.

Uber’s relationship with London’s transport authority has been strained in recent months since TfL refused to grant it a new license to operate in the city last November. However, Uber has been allowed to continue operating pending its appeal, which The Guardian notes has been postponed until September. TfL cited a “pattern of failures” for its decision, including one issue that allowed unauthorized drivers to add their photos to accounts from other drivers.

This is not the first time Uber has offered a boat service. For a number of years now, it’s offered an island-hopping service in Croatia during the summer months. However, this is the first time the company has offered boat rides as part of a commuter service. Uber has also offered journeys via other methods, such as helicopters, over the years.

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