It has built its business on cars, but Uber, one of the world’s highest valued tech startups, is preparing for a future without personal cars as the primary form of transportation. The ride-hailing app company, which has crossed a billion rides in India, is betting on the future being multi-modal, shared and electric as it prepares for an initial pubic offering. In an interview to Mint, Pradeep Parameswaran, president (India and South Asia), Uber, talks about the company’s plans.
How does Uber envisage the future of mobility?
The future of mobility is shared, multi-modal and electric. India is in a more advantageous position to leapfrog the internal combustion engine and personal car ownership model that other countries are trying to undo. A multi-modal electric transport platform brings benefits of lower transportation costs, better asset utilization, reduced city congestion, cleaner air and greater rider convenience. Rather than relying on a personal car or any other single mode of transportation, multi-modal offers more choice and greater reliability. A platform that seamlessly provides access to all of them at affordable prices is better for users. While that’s been happening informally with people using Uber and other modes together for a long time, bringing the ability to book and pay for that ride in one app will draw millions of new users.
Uber is uniquely positioned to bring all these different modes of transport together for the consumer.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said, “More and more, Uber is not just going to be about just taking a car, but about moving from point A to point B in the best way." Could you explain what this will entail?
Having a greater variety of transportation modes at your fingertips makes it easier to live without a car. That’s why we want to provide alternatives to personal car ownership by bringing together multiple modes of transportation in our app. What Dara means by “more and more" is our vision to change how people move around a country by playing a transformational role in addressing pain points for riders and bringing efficiency to the system.
For us, it is important to create a zero emission, on-demand transportation system that is available for everybody, everywhere. We want to create a world where you can take a train or ferry to commute. Once you get to the other side, there will be a moto driver waiting for you, taking you from the train station to work and back. We recently rolled out our first-ever integration with public transit with the regional transportation district in Denver. In India we are building a robust product mix of hyperlocal innovations like UberMoto, UberAuto and UberPool to address the unique challenges of the Indian mobility landscape.
Cities of the future may not have cars. You bought bike-sharing service Jump last year. How is Uber thinking about bike sharing, especially in India?
We are working towards transforming the mobility landscape of cities, with technology at the heart of our solutions. We think having multiple mobility options connected in a platform will make cities better and future ready. By highlighting options like public transportation and bike-sharing, we can help city dwellers make smarter mobility choices, limiting the congestion and pollution caused by cars. This idea is not new. Transportation planners have been dreaming about it for a while.
We launched Jump bikes, and electric pedal assist bikes in Berlin, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. You can book them in the app today. For India, the business model for Jump will be different, but there is a use case for a similar product here.
There are a few startups in India already exploring this. We are already multi-modal in our offering in India with Auto, Moto and Cars. As we continue to move forward and solve the mobility issues, we will add more products such as electric vehicles, especially two and three wheelers, that could provide cleaner, convenient and affordable transportation to all.
The Uber Air project for aerial ride-sharing at scale is a highly anticipated one. When will we see flying cars in India?
At present, we are working with our Uber Elevate network partners globally to launch a fleet of small, electric VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft in Dallas and Los Angeles. In the mega cities of the world, every day, millions of hours are wasted on the road. In India, congestion is a huge issue. The average commute in Mumbai exceeds a staggering 90 minutes. On-demand aviation has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes. We can look at a timeline of 10 years to develop and commercialize flying taxis in India.
For Uber to be really transformational, it can’t just target the rich or ridiculously rich but will have to disrupt public transport. How is Uber thinking about this?
Uber is not a product for the rich or the ridiculously rich, but a product available to a significant number of urbanites.
Our goal is to complement public transportation. We do not aim to replace high capacity mass transit. We believe in the power of combining the best of public transportation and ride-sharing to create more reliable, convenient, and affordable mobility options. Two important parts of realizing this vision are piloting intra-city buses in India, a service we have introduced in Egypt and Mexico, and increasing electrical vehicle adoption. When shared and electric mobility are properly combined, along with automation, we can shrink the number of vehicles on the road and reduce transportation’s climate footprint.
Give us your five-year road map to battle competition and stay ahead in terms of innovation and users.
For Uber and where we are going to be five to 10 years from now, our success in India is going to play a vital part. In India, we are continuously directing our efforts to build a product mix of hyperlocal solutions to address the unique challenges experienced by consumers. At present, we are focused on reducing congestion and pollution caused by cars. We are focused on promoting usage of ride-sharing and working on making electric transit options available on Uber in India.