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UK water utility Severn Trent outsourced part of its leak detection to Uber drivers, sending drivers out to find leaks during a series of trials.

The programme has run a series of two week-long trials in an effort to find more efficient ways to detect leaks, and reduce operating costs.

Approximately 50 small leaks have been found to date.

Drivers were deployed to record video, and sent images back to engineers, who would dispatch technical staff to do repairs. The trials served to test whether outsourcing leak detection in this way would be more cost effective than dispatching technicians straight out to incidents of reported leaks.

But not everyone’s enthused.

Stuart Fegan, national officer for general trade union GMB, said: “When I found out Severn Trent are using taxi drivers to investigate leaks I thought it must be a joke.

“But no one is laughing – this has got huge safety implications for customers, the drivers and the public at large. Water engineers are highly trained specialists – they can spot if water is contaminated and if water produces a risk to the public. I doubt most taxi drivers can.”

A spokesperson for the utility said: “We’ve carried out a series of two-week trials as we look to find new, more efficient ways to find and fix leaks. This particular trial has looked at around 50 small leaks where we’ve used taxi drivers rather than technicians as a cheaper way to get live video footage of the leak so our engineers back at base can quickly assess the correct response and dispatch the most appropriate team to fix it.

“We’re now looking at all the trial results to see the best way to help our engineers spend more time doing what’s best for our customers by fixing leaks rather than simply assessing them.”