Uber announces partnership with Thames Clippers boat service

By Ellen Daniel

For the first time, Uber is taking to the water in London with the announcement of a partnership with Thames Clippers on its riverboat service.

Currently, Thames Clippers river buses operate four commuter routes and two tourist routes along the River Thames between Putney and Woolwich Arsenal, transporting on average around 10,000 passengers a day. The service resumed on 15 June following closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The partnership, due to be formally announced this summer, is intended to “encourage more people to travel by boat around the city” and will see boats and piers re-branded with the Uber Boat by Thames Clippers brand.

However, the service will still be fully operated by Thames Clippers.

According to Thames Clippers, passengers will be able to purchase tickets through the Uber app and then use QR technology to board the boats, or can pay using an Oyster card or contactless payment card which are currently accepted on the riverboats.

Sean Collins, Thames Clipper co-founder and CEO, said:

“In our 22nd year of operation it is key that we continue to support London and its commuters with the ease of lockdown and return to work. The new partnership sees Thames Clippers and Uber, who both pride themselves on safety, reliability and comfort, come together.

“It will allow us to link the two travel modes of river and road, providing Londoners and visitors with even more options to commute, visit, explore and enjoy our city by river. Watch this space; the partnership will support the ongoing expansion of our network, opening up more of London to fast, reliable journeys by water.”

Uber boat partnership comes as taxi licence remains uncertain

The Thames Clippers services operate under a licence from Transport for London. In November 2019, TFL made the decision not to renew Uber’s London licence due to a “pattern of failures” in passenger safety and security. Uber has appealed this decision, with a decision postponed until September, and has been allowed to continue operating. This may mean that in the future, Uber-branded boats may be permitted to operate on water, but not on London’s roads.

Uber operates UberBOAT in Croatia, an island-hopping service between Split, Dubrovnik and nearby islands. However, its partnership with Thames Clippers is its first foray into a commuter boat service.

The Covid-19 pandemic unsurprisingly affecting the ride-hailing market, with Uber’s journey numbers down by 60% to 70% in some locations in March. The company reported a net loss of $2.65bn in its Q1 results, published in May. It therefore may come as no surprise that the company is looking to further diversify its offerings, confirming earlier this week that it had acquired food delivery company Postmates for $2.65bn.

This comes as the UK government encouraging commuters to use different modes of transport, pushing forward the trial of rental e-scooters, to reduce reliance on trains and buses. Although riverboats are certainly not a high-tech solution, they may play a role in this.

Jamie Heywood, Regional General Manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Uber, said: “Londoners are looking for new ways to travel around the city, particularly when they start commuting back to work. Later this summer we will launch the Uber Boat by Thames Clippers partnership in London as a means for people to travel into the City by water, which will be fully integrated through the Uber app.”

Read More: Uber and Hyundai announce air taxi partnership.