TAXI companies are gearing up for a battle after controversial firm Uber revealed it could launch in Oxford.

The web-based rival said more than 50,000 people in the city had tried to access its service in just a year, despite the fact it is not yet available here.

Its smartphone app connects people to private hire cars without having to speak to an operator and is used by more than a million people in London.

But black cab drivers in the capital have staged mass protests against it, because they have to pass the rigorous road network Knowledge test but Uber drivers do not.

The company has now applied for a licence to operate in Oxford, sparking claims from rival taxi companies it could lead to fare hikes and draw drivers from far-away areas. A spokesman for Uber said: “As a business, we want to grow and to launch in new cities.

“The number of people who have been opening our app in Oxford is larger than average so that means there is certainly demand for our service and we are excited about that.

“We have applied for an operator’s licence and that is the first step, but when the time is right we would also need a team of people on the ground.

“Uber operates a fully-insured, licensed product and that means we need an operator’s licence and fully-licensed drivers who go through the same background checks as taxi drivers.”

It is understood Uber’s licence application was lodged on July 20, 2015 and it has until July 19 this year to complete the process.

The move comes after two of the city’s biggest private hire operators announced they would team up to combat the rise of taxi-booking apps.

Royal Cars and 001 Taxis have set up joint premises and together launched their own app, which offers similar services to Uber and takes tens of thousands of bookings every week.

Mark Green, owner of 001 Taxis, warned Uber’s so-called ‘surge pricing’ – when cabs charge more during the busiest periods – could force other companies to follow suit so they can retain drivers.

He also claimed it would lead to drivers from other areas coming to work in Oxford after carrying out “drop-offs”, adding: “Licensing here is very strict and the standards are high, but there are other places in the country where you can almost just walk in and get a badge.

“From a safety point of view that is concerning, but these drivers also won’t know the area. We don’t also don’t want surge pricing in Oxford, but we would have to match them if we wanted to keep our drivers and that would have a major impact on the public.”

But Mr Green added: “If Uber come here, we are ready for the competition.”

Abingdon-based taxi driver Colin Dobson said: “I’m not surprised Uber are looking at Oxford, given that they have been moving into towns and cities with large student populations.

“But my concern would be we have already got hundreds of private hire vehicles working in Oxford who are licensed in other areas and Uber’s platform could just make that worse.”

Oxford City Council licensing committee chairman Colin Cook said: “I cannot see any practical issues that Uber coming to Oxford raises, other than giving the public a wider variety of ways to book a private hire vehicle.

“We are aware there are certainly incentives for drivers to come from elsewhere and ply their trade here and we are doing what we can about that.”