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BUCHAREST, Romania – When Uber arrived in Bucharest’s point-to-point transport market in February 2015, few of the city’s inhabitants had likely ever heard of the ride-sharing app. But this is a capital city with a population of almost 2 million people and it was recently declared the second most congested European city.

Since its launch last year 80,000 people have used Uber in Bucharest. It’s one of the fastest growing ride-sharing communities in Central and Eastern Europe. UberX — its low-cost service — has grown tenfold in the same period. But why the perfect fit?

Research funded by Uber and carried out by research institute IMAS Marketing and Polls, which received 2,253 responses, discovered that 60% of Uber riders are under 30-years-old, while 90% of the same group have higher education.

Romania is a country renowned for its fast internet connection speed and its vibrant startup scene.

An insight into the startup scene can be found on Romanianstartups.com, which lists 316 startups, 616 founders, with around 50 events. This tech culture has ensured that the millennial demographic is as tech-savvy as any of their Western-European counterparts — and so Uber seems to have found a natural fit.

‘Bucharest embraced Uber as a safe and reliable way to get around the city,’ Says Nicoleta Schroder, General Manager of Uber Bucharest, ‘We saw a lot of interest even before the launch. We can say Bucharest chose Uber as much as Uber chose Bucharest. Plus, people here and Romanians in general are very open to innovative, digital services.’

With monthly salaries in Romania averaging around $450, many Uber drivers — or ‘partners’ as Uber prefers to call them — see it as a useful and flexible way to supplement their main income. And as demand rose in Bucharest for Uber rides, so too did the number of drivers.

In one year of operating in the city average waiting times for an Uber car dropped from 12 minutes to just over four minutes. Uber’s aim is to get that down to three minutes.

An Uber driver who did not want to be named, told me: ‘I do this in my spare time to earn extra money, and I like it because I can choose when I work and the passengers are educated, smart people, and I don’t have to deal with many drunks.’

Although Uber insists — seemingly as a matter of company protocol — to not be in direct competition with any local taxi firms and to be growing the ‘overall pie’ of transport services, it’s not difficult to see, having used Bucharest taxis myself for over a year, the allure of a mobile app that offers a reliably high quality service, with no cash exchange between passenger and driver.

A common issue among the city’s regulated taxis, for example, is that they seldom have any change for notes and generally pass the onus onto the passenger. As a result, it is quite normal on arrival of destination for a driver to detour to the nearest cash machine. Quite opposite to the 21st Century service that Uber ensures. 

Codrut Sebastian Negut, a 26-year-old photographer and digital retoucher, says: ‘I feel it’s connected to poverty and growing up in a post-communist Romania, where the internet offered greater informational and entertainment value than what was available locally. People I know that use Uber use it because they understand what good or bad service is — primarily because of being connected to the internet.’

Another factor that could prompt people to take an Uber ride is Bucharest’s parking space issue. The fact that there is just one space for every three cars in the city — along with its notable congestion — could easily shift people to not bother driving themselves. 

Uber drivers have diverse occupations: 37% are entrepreneurs or freelancers, 31% have full time jobs, while 22% are unemployed and drive with Uber while searching for a job.

Currently Uber operates in 22 of 28 European Union (EU) member states. The EU countries Uber are not currently operating in are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta and Slovenia.

An Uber Bucharest representative assured me that this year the tech company will likely branch out into other key Romania cities such as Cluj, Iasi and Timisoara. If the reaction in the capital is a sign of what Uber can expect, then there’s possibly a bunch of tech-savvy millennials trying to request cars as we speak.

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