Uber's controversial taxi service is now expanding to boats

Uber launches commuter boat service in Istanbul

Taxi-app firm Uber has launched a boat service across the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul to provide commuters with a better option than the city's excessively congested bridges.

The service, a partnership between Uber and local sea transport company Navette, dubbed the Uber Boat, underpins the firm's strategy that aims to make it easier to transport anything anywhere through a simple booking service on a mobile app.

"If we can get you a car in five minutes, we can get you anything in five minutes," said Austin Kim, local operations manager for San Francisco-based Uber Technologies.

However, Uber will face tough competition from price-competitive boats parked at the local Bebek pier with the helmsmen usually open to haggling.

Uber - currently valued at $40bn and backed by investment giants including Goldman Sachs and Google - first entered the Turkish market about a year ago and has celebrated a success particularly among the young and tech-savvy part of the population.

The firm said its Istanbul drivers clock up tens of thousands of rides each month, even though they have to compete with popular home-grown taxi app, Bitaksi.

Uber speed boats have capacity of six to eight people and can be used to reach Atakoy, near Istanbul's main airport at a price of around 425 lira ($160) from a central pier, dodging hours of potential traffic jams over a distance of 17 km.

"It's at the choke point that you really suffer," Kim said, looking to one of the Bosphorus bridges. "You will not easily get onto that bridge in rush hour."

Uber currently operates in 300 cities around the world but has encountered severe opposition from local taxi drivers and authorities in many countries including France, South Korea and India. Earlier this week Uber suspended its services in France, which considers the app illegal.

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