Jill Hazelbaker is the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Affairs at Uber.
For many Silicon Valley tech companies, North American and European markets are the focus of the business. Digital literacy is high, regulatory conditions are relatively stable, and consumers enjoy the highest discretionary income. It was certainly true of Google and Snapchat — both successful companies where I’ve had the privilege of working.
When Uber was created, our mission was to support reliable transportation everywhere for everyone. Since then, we’ve extended our reach across the globe. We saw our billionth ride in December 2015, our next billion six months later, and another three billion less than a year later.
I do not believe our founders ever anticipated the complexity of scaling this business across the globe. Introducing ridesharing to the world has led to diverse operational and technical challenges and, at times, a tumultuous relationship with governments. With Dara Khosrowshahi at the helm, Uber has focused on resetting our relationships with riders, drivers and cities.
Uber is not a company that sits in the cloud — our technology helps to move real people in real vehicles on real roads. The immediate benefit is a safe, reliable and affordable ride at the touch of a button. But the broader benefits are unprecedented: we can help to reduce private car ownership, improve congestion, better connect our cities, and open up millions of flexible economic opportunities.
Our technology is used in over 600 cities worldwide. We operate in first world financial hubs and sprawling developing economies. We help move people on two wheels, four wheels and sometimes on three. Our drivers include parents, veterans, students, retirees, white collar professionals, those unable to get work and those in between jobs.
Our challenge is to facilitate transportation across these diverse markets with diverse riders and drivers. New technology benefits different cities in different ways, but benefits all cities in significant ways. I want to explain why governments should care about our technology, and how we realize our mutual vision for smart transportation in smart cities.
More than half of us choose to live in cities, and that is expected to rise to 70 percent by 2050. Millions, especially in the developing world, are moving from rural areas to find work and opportunity in their cities.
While every country faces unique challenges, they share a common theme: how to make the best use of scarce resources to improve the liveability of our cities. And that is the core of ridesharing — using underutilized vehicles to help improve mobility, connectivity and economic opportunity.
For a century, the major trend in urban development around the globe has been towards individualized, motorized transportation: the personal car. For example, the United States has more than 800 passenger cars per 1000 people. Seventy-six percent of Americans commute to work alone and, in some cities, up to a third of all the land is now dedicated to parking.
Countries around the world are treading a similar path towards mass motorization. In major cities across India, up to 92 percent of people intend to buy a car — or another car — in the next five years. And despite a world-class public transit system, more than a third of transportation in Tokyo is by private car.
While personal cars can improve individual mobility, they are an enormously inefficient use of roads and space. On the road, they typically contain only one passenger per car. In the US alone, congestion costs the economy more than $100 Billion; globally, it’s estimated to cost as much as 2%-5% of GDP. On the curb, cars sit idle for 95 percent of the day.
The answer to this dilemma is clear. We need to encourage more urban dwellers to make use of shared modes: shared cars, public transport, and bike sharing, among others. The OECD estimates that if all travel was shared, we would only need 3 percent of existing vehicles on the road. But individual users don’t make travel decisions based on social outcomes — they choose what maximizes their individual utility. That’s why we need new tools that help to make sharing more attractive.
Luckily, for the first time in many decades, technology is creating new opportunities to improve urban mobility. App-based systems enable private drivers to provide safe, reliable and efficient rides in their private cars. We can match multiple passengers together into the same car, dramatically reducing the congestion footprint of point to point transportation.
To realize this vision, it’s critical that platforms like Uber can provide an alternative that meets or exceeds the personal car. Only then will urban residents leave their car at home or give up car ownership altogether. Shared vehicles can provide a real alternative to our crippling dependence on personal vehicles, especially in emerging markets.
But we’re not just trying to make cars more efficient — we’re trying to connect the entire mobility system together into a seamless mobility platform. Imagine saying your destination and watching your cell phone map the fastest route using the most efficient combination of ridesharing, bicycles and public transit. That’s the thinking behind Uber's recent acquisition of JUMP Bikes and our partnership with Masabi, a mobile transit ticketing app. Not too far down the track, your Uber app might tell you that riding a bike to the local train station is the quickest and cheapest way to get to your destination.
Ultimately, the goal of reducing private car ownership is one we share with cities, both in the US and around the world. We want to work side by side with cities and governments as partners. For example, we built a tool called Movement in 2017 (movement.uber.com) to share data on road traffic with governments free of charge. That product is live in two dozen cities around the world, from Bogota to Johannesburg. We have used that data to study everything from the impact of flooding in Nairobi to the Hindu festival of Dhanteras in Delhi. It demonstrates our commitment to using global technology to understand local problems.
Because we operate across so many cities, our teams are fundamentally local: we need to engage directly with local drivers for onboarding, understand cities street by street to ensure riders take the best route home, and tailor our products to solve local problems. For example, we recently built an “Uber Lite” app for India, understanding that many people have smartphones and data connections that struggle with more sophisticated apps.
We stand at the very beginning of the mobility revolution. Today, ridesharing accounts for less than 1 percent of miles driven globally. By 2030, Morgan Stanley estimates that number could rise to more than 25 percent. But mobility is only part of our story. Ultimately, our technology is powered by people.
Social and economic mobility
More than 3 million people around the world use Uber to earn a flexible income, making it one of the largest reliable sources of economic opportunity. Creating work at the touch of a button, with relatively low barriers to entry, is a powerful tool for economic empowerment.
We believe that digital apps and platforms can improve access to work and create new opportunities in a way that is consistent with community expectations. Our technology helps individuals find work, gives them control over their work-life balance, and creates new opportunities for people traditionally excluded from the labor market.
These benefits apply across both developed and developing markets. For example, in Egypt, research found that people driving with Uber were disproportionately young and previously worked in sectors hit by the downturn in tourism. In addition, 83 percent of female drivers with Uber in Egypt choose ridesharing platforms like Uber for flexibility and greater control of their economic opportunities.
Uber’s flexible and open access marketplace supports drivers from all walks of life without discrimination. We open up opportunities for those traditionally excluded from the labor market, such as women returning to work. In Panama City, over 15 percent of drivers are women, and the overwhelming majority drive part time around their existing personal or professional lives. Across the world in Saudi Arabia, we welcome reforms that enable women to drive. Previously, 80 percent of our riders were women — we can now help them to earn an income from the driver’s seat too.
Similarly, research from the International Finance Corporation has found that Uber can help boost incomes for women more broadly by improving access to work. In South Africa, 35 percent of female riders said Uber has enabled them to be independent: 54 percent of these riders use Uber to reach other transportation hubs in order to get to work safely and reliably.
We’ve used technology and innovation to address challenges faced by people in both employed and self-employed work. For example, we know that ‘wage theft’ is a significant issue for millions of workers around the world. That is why we have developed features such as Instant Pay which enable those using Uber to get paid when it suits them rather than living at the whim of a paymaster.
Whatever you think about the future of work, one thing is clear: our social institutions have not kept pace with changes in how people work today. Many actors still view work through a single lens, as exclusive “9 to 5” employment. We need to address the challenges that emerge when more people choose to work independently . It is not a solution to restrict how people choose to work, or to push them into traditional modes of work.
Instead, we need to recognize new types of work. We should come together to update the safety net for an age in which people will work in more fluid and varied ways throughout their careers. We need to ensure that systems designed in the middle of the last century still service their public policy objectives. At a basic level, everyone should have the ability to protect themselves and their loved ones when they are injured at work, get sick, or when it’s time to retire. As a global platform, we are committed to finding new ways to meet this standard.
That is why late last year, Uber has rolled out free insurance for over 450,000 drivers registered on our app in India covering accidental death, disablement, hospitalization, medical treatment. We have rolled out a similar program for over 1 million drivers in Latin America including in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay as well as in many other countries such as Costa-Rica, the Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Panama and Bangladesh, to name a few.
In June this year, we extended our work on social benefits to partners even further by providing protection to 150,000 drivers and couriers in Europe for events beyond those connected with injury at or through work, including payments for life events such as parental leave, sickness and jury duty. Significantly, we want to ensure that we are delivering on our commitment across the world, so that our partners in France enjoy similar protection as those in Romania.
We also want work to be enriching beyond this, which is why we have invested in education programs around the world including in language and literacy training, as well as the creation and management of small businesses. We have partnered with education and training programs such as FutureLearn, paying for drivers to complete one qualification on that online learning platform, and we are exploring more options in this area.
Equally, we want to change attitudes towards work among girls thinking about their future careers. That is why I am especially proud of our UberMeninas partnership with the educational platform Força Meninas in Brazil. UberMeninas helps to instill self-esteem and leadership among girls aged 6 to 10, and inspire them to pursue a career in technology.
It’s appropriate that there is so much interest in the future of economic opportunity and work. After all, work is what keeps us going. It’s how we make a living. It defines our sense of place and, in many ways, gives us pride and purpose. It is important to us as a community, and we all have a stake in getting it right.
Technology can either improve or undermine the quality of work. There is a low road where advances in technology generate wealth for some but also increase inequality and social dislocation. But there is also a high road — a more equitable future in which prosperity is shared and the benefits of technology are felt by all; where technological progress leads to individual empowerment, higher productivity and better living standards.
There are some things Uber can do on its own to advance this vision, and we are committed to continuously improving independent work. But we know that we don’t have all the answers. These issues stretch well beyond app-based independent work and, in some cases, long predate it. That is why preparing for the future will require consideration of hard policy issues such as modernizing protection for independent workers, lifelong learning, occupational licensing reforms, targeted transitional support, investing in human capital, building portable certifications, and improving job-matching.
Ideally, our technology would be uncontroversial. But we don’t operate in an ideal world. Our platform connects real people in real cities. That gives rise to a unique regulatory problem. Governments don’t just regulate the app. They regulate all the transport models — rideshare and taxis, buses and bikes — that use the app. And transportation has a legacy of heavy regulation, glacial reform, and vocal opposition.
Uber wants to be regulated. Regulations help to protect consumers and provide certainty to the industry. But governments need to acknowledge new technology and new models. Taxi regulations date back fifty — even two hundred — years. Smartphone apps and ridesharing need new rules. When regulations are no longer fit for purpose, it is the duty of government to reform.
In our experience, governments take different approaches to reform. There is no “one size fits all”. Consumers have different expectations, cities face different challenges, and the political balance shifts between incumbent and insurgent interests.
We experience this diversity first-hand around the world. Sao Paulo and Rio embrace ridesharing while Buenos Aires resists reform. Singapore, Australia and China introduce new rules while Hong Kong threatens a shutdown. Governments from New Zealand to Saudi Arabia to Finland draft new legislation while Germany and Spain cling to twentieth century statutes. Turkey threatens to ban Uber while India welcomes a million new jobs.
Even so, there are important similarities in how governments approach reform. First, regulators acknowledge that new service models require new rules. These rules serve the same objectives as before: safety, consumer protection and efficiency. But we meet these objectives in different ways with new technology.
For example, traditional taxis carry cameras and fare meters because hailed taxis are anonymous and passengers cannot agree on the price beforehand. App-based transport is different. The Uber app generates a digital record of each trip including a map of the route. Riders agree to the price in advance. Drivers and riders can leave digital feedback that helps to identify any issues. We can assist law enforcement with data in the event of an incident.
New rules are appropriate. “Most cities require dogs but not cats to be licensed,” reasoned one US Court of Appeals. “Dogs are bigger, stronger, and more aggressive than cats… Just as some people prefer cats to dogs, some people prefer Uber… There are enough differences to justify different regulatory schemes.”
Second, good regulators think fast and act faster. Consultation and reform should take no longer than necessary — 75 million riders and 3 million drivers depend on it. To that end, many governments introduced “stage one” reforms quickly. These were often tweaks to existing laws, or regulatory “pilots”. And they were often implemented via ministerial decree, since statutes take years to draft and enact. Governments can legislate for structural “stage two” reforms in due course.
There are some interesting trends in the speed of reform between countries. Many developing markets quickly embraced ridesharing — governments in South East Asia, for example, often spoke of “leapfrogging” and the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Europe is still grappling with the question of whether smartphone apps should be regulated the same way as taxi companies that own and manage a fleet of cars. But communist Vietnam understood the distinction. “If an airline sells tickets on a website,” said one regulator, “that doesn’t mean the website owns the aeroplane.”
Third, good regulators help to make existing taxis more competitive. Old industries don’t change overnight, and government should help to accelerate and support the transition. For example, ridesharing technology can benefit taxis too. It can help to connect taxis with more passengers, more efficiently than ever before. On pre-booked trips, taxis should have the same opportunity to use apps, dynamic pricing and pooling to attract new consumers.
For our part, we have learnt a lot working with governments across the world. First, empathy is essential. Regulators get nothing out of good reform, and they have everything to lose if reform goes wrong. We need to help them find a safe and sensible path forward — to connect the dots from good technology to good law — and do so in a climate of mutual respect.
Second, we need to “think local”. We can’t copy and paste laws from the United States around the world. We need to work with local authorities to find local solutions. The same is true for our business strategy: what worked in California might not work in Dubai. In Japan, our CEO recently committed to working with the existing taxi industry. “We need a different way of doing business,” he said. “We need to come in with partnership in mind”.
Finally, we need to remember that innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Innovation is disruptive. We need to help all stakeholders — government and industry — adapt to the new environment. The answer is never to ban or limit new business models. But there are many things that government and industry can do to help ensure no one gets left behind.
There is no doubt that momentum is behind reform: it is a matter of “if” not “when”. Of course, challenges remain. Sadly, some regulators view ridesharing as a threat, not an opportunity. They refuse to consult and refuse to act. Thankfully, they are a minority. Governments of all political stripes are embracing ridesharing. They recognise that good governance depends on responsive reform that puts riders, drivers and cities first.
These are some of the reasons why Uber poses such a unique policy challenge. We use global technology to solve hyperlocal problems. We use digital apps to transform real world experiences. And that is one of the most interesting aspects of leading our public affairs efforts — I manage a team in the field from Tokyo to Toronto, Nairobi to New York, Bangalore to Brussels and everywhere in between. It isn’t always smooth sailing, but we are committed to working with our cities to find the path forward.