Uber's first five years of existence were defined by its fights with government regulators. Now that it has established itself as a semi-legit and widely popular mode of travel, the company's CEO says its next move will be to play nice with its former municipal foes.
"You have to look at things at the city level," Travis Kalanick said during a "fireside chat" at Vancouver's Launch Academy hub, according to a report from BetaKit. "For transportation, we're looking at what kinds of cars are in supply. What can the economy support? What are the pain points for transportation? What's the right price point? It's so much about getting people and cars around the city as fast as possible. There are tweaks you do elsewhere."
"There are a lot of ways cities can be planning better and benefiting from this kind of data," he added. "The burden is on us to see how we can partner with cities. This will be an offshoot and something I expect to see a lot more of that in 2016."
"The burden is on us to see how we can partner with cities."
How these new partnerships will look remains unclear. Uber is not known to willingly share its data with governments, despite Kalanick's comments suggesting a new stab at transparency. When it does share data, it does so begrudgingly. A likelier outcome is Uber will find transit agencies with which to share and integrate software to better connect riders to bus and train stops. The company denies that it wants to become a private alternative to public transportation, even though its pilot projects look more and more like a private buses. Last month, Uber said it was partnering with a transit technology company in Memphis, Tennessee, and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, to "bridge the gap" between trains, buses, and app-based car services. Kalanick's comments seem to suggest that future projects like these are in the works.
(In an essay posted Tuesday on Medium, Uber presents trip data from Amherst, Mass., a town of 38,000 between Springfield and Boston. The data shows how Uber can thrive not just in dense urban centers, but also smaller suburban and rural communities, the company argues.)
Which is not to say that Kalanick was ready to declare a cease-fire with his regulatory nemeses. "Institutions that prevent progress need to change," he said. But as in past talks he's given, Kalanick reserved his most cutting remarks for his favorite enemy, the taxi industry.
"It screws over choice for the consumer as well as for the driver."
"In monopolistic systems like in NYC, taxi licenses are tradeable licenses... A taxi driver has to spend $40,000 a year to be impoverished," he said. "That's the system you support when you support a monopolistic system like the taxi industry. It screws over choice for the consumer as well as for the driver. There's a very narrow segment of people that would think that's a good system."
Some drivers accuse Uber of screwing them over by slashing fares 15 percent, which the company did recently in over 100 markets, or by classifying them as independent contractors rather than employees, which is being challenged in a class-action lawsuit in California this summer.
"That transition period is going to last quite a long time."
Partnerships were also a theme of Kalanick's remarks on self-driving cars. Uber is developing its own autonomous vehicle technology after luring away a number of key researchers from Carnegie Mellon University. But the CEO said it would be interested in teaming up with cities that are interested in seeing more driverless cars on the road.
"Since 2007, Google's been working on autonomous vehicles because millions of people die every year in vehicle accidents," Kalanick said. "Also, there's pollution, traffic — we understand why they've been investing and trying to push that forward. Can there be a partnership for the transition period? That transition period is going to last quite a long time. We can partner with cities through that transition to help make it happen in a human way."