Uber vehicle Image copyright PA Media

Uber has agreed to buy its biggest UK rival Autocab, which operates a ride-booking app for independent minicab companies throughout the country.

It said the takeover would let it connect people with mini-cab firms in cities where Uber itself does not have drivers.

Autocab’s platform has access to more than 75,000 vehicles in areas where Uber does not operate.

Uber is currently available in 40 towns and cities in the UK.

Autocab initially started out as a radio supply business. It later developed a cloud-based booking platform called iGo that let independent taxi firms offer online bookings.

The platform is currently used by about half of the private hire and taxi market in the UK.

Following the deal, Uber expects to be available in about 170 towns and cities. That includes Oxford and Doncaster, where Uber says “tens of thousands” of people try to use its app every month.

Passengers using the Uber app in a UK town where there are no Uber drivers will be able to seamlessly book a private hire car instead.

“Through Autocab’s iGo marketplace, Uber will be able to connect these riders with local operators who choose to take their booking,” the company said in a blog post.

“In turn, operators should be able to expand their operations and offer more earnings opportunities to local drivers.”

Difficult year

Uber said Autocab would “remain independent” following the acquisition, and maintain its own board of directors.

The companies have not revealed the financial terms of the deal, or explained how Uber will make money from it.

Oxford-based mini-cab firm Absolute Cabs told the BBC that it welcomed news of the takeover.

“As a tech-orientated global player, they have brought new ideas and we recognise Uber as a strong player in the industry,” said press officer Douglas Wallace.

“Private companies like ours will be able to offer the same Uber-style experience but with more local knowledge and investment.”

The BBC has contacted the Competition and Markets Authority for comment.

It has been a difficult year for Uber, which revealed in April that journeys booked through its app had fallen 80% due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It announced in May that it would be cutting more than a third of its workforce, although this did not include drivers as the company considers them independent contractors.