Using technology and existing transport systems, Uber will take you the last mile

Saturday June 13 2015

Uber application. Uber is seeking to create affordable, efficient alternatives to individual car ownership. PHOTO | AFP

Residents of most cities in the world complain about the state of transportation. That is because, in many places, the roads are gridlocked and public transport is overcrowded, slow, expensive or non-existent.

Sadly, the problems are greatest in developing countries. Take, for example, Mexico City, where there are now nearly two (old, less fuel-efficient) cars for every person and the traffic is often at a standstill.

Failing to deal with this congestion will create more pollution as well as a significant drag on economic growth.

Yet there is a real alternative to a world that looks like a parking lot and moves like a traffic jam. We just need to challenge the status quo. It is partly about better public transportation — where countries have a lesson or two to learn from Europe.

Remote neighbourhoods

But that cannot be the whole answer. Investment in infrastructure is expensive and not everyone can live near a bus stop or a train station. In fact, it is often the poorest, most remote neighbourhoods where people are stranded. That is where companies like Uber come in, because, with technology, we can help use the existing infrastructure more efficiently.


Push a button and your ride is a few minutes away. It does not matter where you are or where you are going. There is no destination discrimination. There are no refusals based on what you look like or where you live. And if your train or bus does not get you all the way home, Uber will take you the last mile.

In Paris, for example, over 20 per cent of rides are people being picked up or dropped off within 50 metres of a Metro stop, helping complement today’s public transportation infrastructure.

In the process, Uber has created tens of thousands of jobs, including 26,000 in New York, 15,000 in London and 10,000 in Paris.

Just recently, our millionth driver-partner took his first trip and we anticipate millions more drivers to sign up around the world in the coming years. These are women and men who value the opportunity to make a decent living and the flexibility the work offers.

But this is just the start. In cities such as San Francisco, New York and Paris, so many people now use the Uber service that there are scores of duplicate rides: Passengers wanting to get to the same place at the same time. But with UberPool, they can share a car, so the driver picks up one person, then another, then drops one of them off, and picks up another.

It sounds easy enough but it is only possible with scale because you need a critical mass of drivers and passengers to make things work efficiently.

Over time, you can imagine stringing enough of these rides together so that UberPool becomes a private bus service, on-demand and hyper-convenient, picking people up wherever they are and dropping them off wherever they want to go. It is also good for drivers (there is no waiting around between trips) and more affordable for passengers.

The UberPool is cheaper than owning a car or taking a cab. In fact, it is on a par with getting the bus. That is what makes it a real game-changer, because, by providing a cost-effective alternative to car ownership, we can start to reduce the number of cars in our cities.

Colossal waste

It is estimated that there are one billion cars on the world’s roads today, and counting. Americans spend around 2 per cent of their lives sitting in traffic — a colossal waste of time and fuel. The problem is the same in the UK.

A recent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that British motorists will spend on average 18 working days a year gridlocked by 2030. The number for London is 40.

Amazingly, most cars sit idle over 95 per cent of the time, creating another big problem — storage. In Paris, 15 per cent of the city is taken up with parking.

It is the potential to help solve these problems that gets me up in the morning, excited about going to work.

I know that I can come across as a somewhat fierce advocate for Uber at times, so much so that people may use another “a” word to describe me. And that is fair enough.

I have made my share of mistakes and I am doing my best to learn from them. It is why we are working hard to build a new partnership with cities and their mayors so that together we can create affordable, efficient alternatives to individual car ownership.

Travis Kalanick is the CEO and co-founder of Uber, a global transportation network available in 312 cities and 57 countries around the world. Nairobi is one of two cities around the world in which passengers can pay for Uber using cash.