Uber—Taking Public The Last Mile

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Shweta Rajpal Kohli
Public Policy-Head

One big mobility solution that we bring to the table is complementing public transport. If your train or subway or bus doesn’t get you all the way home, Uber will take you that last mile, says Shweta Rajpal Kohli, Public Policy-Head, UBER, in conversation with Manish Arora of Elets News Network (ENN). Excerpts:

Uber appears to have revolutionised urban mobility. Tell us about your journey in India so far. India is the second largest market for us globally, and is growing at an incredible pace. Our journey in India started over three years ago with Bengaluru. The growth since then has been phenomenal. We started with three employees in Bengaluru, we are now a 700+ people strong team currently operating in 29 Indian cities with over 400,000 driver partners on our platform. We’ve invested and ramped up Uber’s only engineering centre in Asia out of Bengaluru to tap into the tech talent pool in India. This center will innovate on transportation technology for India, many of these innovations will then get rolled out in other markets around the globe. Additionally, we have also set up our Center of Excellence (CoE) in Hyderabad. Our focus remains on creating safe, reliable and affordable transportation. We have introduced a lot of firsts in India like cash payments and ‘Dial an Uber’ that allows riders to book a ride even if they don’t have the app downloaded on their device. With the aim of getting more people into fewer cars, we are now encouraging people to use products like uberPOOL that help towards cutting pollution and congestion in key cities.

How can technology help resolve problems like congestion and pollution at a time when people are buying more and more cars?
It’s easy to demonise the car. However, the problem is not about cars themselves—it is how we use them: individually. In reality, individual car ownership is a necessity not a luxury for many city dwellers. It is a form of “mobility insurance”. People own cars to ensure that they can reliably reach where they need to go. The good news is that technology has the potential to help solve these problems. The ability to press a button and get a ride is proving to a reliable, convenient, and affordable alternative to individual car ownership. The benefits of using technology to go beyond reliability and convenience. We have some of the worst pollution and congestion levels in cities like Delhi and Bengaluru in India. People and policymakers now realise there are real alternatives to a world that looks like a parking lot and moves like a traffic jam.
The answer lies in using technology to get more people into fewer cars. Our innovative solutions like uberPOOL – that allow carpooling using technology by matching rides of two or more people going in the same direction – are a great starting point. In India, we have uberPOOL services in six cities- Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai and Delhi. Since the launch of uberPOOL in India is in December 2015, we have saved over 32 million kilometres travelled, over 1.5 million litres of fuel and cut over 3.558 million kgs CO2 emissions. If we aspire for every journey in India to be a shared journey, we need to use private cars for the public good. This will encourage people who own a car and drive themselves to use smartphone technology to carpool. There are over 2.7 million cars in Delhi today but less than 100,000 that are eligible to use ridesharing apps like Uber. Similarly, we have hundreds of thousands of riders in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Chennai, who can immediately be encouraged to share their rides with appropriate government support. We are glad the government through its advisory has recognised the need to use private cars for ridesharing.
How is Uber engaging with governments for coming up with progressive regulations? Technology often outpaces regulations. We understand that governments are grappling with the need to regulate new players and at the same time encouraging innovation. We are working closely with governments to come up with regulations which are good for riders, drivers and cities. It’s heartening to see that the latest central government guidelines reiterate the need for a regulatory framework that encourages new forms of urban mobility. The answer in creating a level-playing field lies not in imposing regulations but instead deregulating the existing players so as to encourage competition, which is always beneficial to consumers.

In the ecosystem of smart cities, a smart transportation is viewed as an integral part, how is Uber helping smart transportation with new digital developments?
The Smart City Mission is redefining urban India – reforming Indian cities and empowering them with technology. We, at Uber, find ourselves completely invested, engaged and aligned with this mission. We too have reimagined urban spaces and found technology to lead the way in solving urban mobility issues. One big mobility solution that we bring to the table is complementing public transport. If your train or subway or bus doesn’t get you all the way home, Uber will take you that last mile. Despite the improvements in public transit over the years, its reach still has limitations. Many homes and jobs are farther than an easy walk to public transit, creating what’s known as the first/last mile problem. Real and perceived safety, comfort, and reliability concerns can also create bias against public transit usage, making the first/last mile problem seem at times more like an abyss than a simple gap. By complementing existing mass transit systems, we are able to extend their reach at no extra cost to the taxpayer.

The answer in creating a level-playing field lies not in imposing regulations but instead deregulating the existing players so as to encourage competition which is always beneficial to consumers.

In Delhi, Uber has successfully extended the reach of public transport by over 14.7%. We have also launched new products like uberMOTO –our bike-sharing product that enables riders to tap a button and get a motorbike ride in minutes. uberMOTO gives riders an affordable and convenient motorcycle ride at the push of a button, through the Uber app. Riders receive driver and bike details just as they do for other Uber rides, as well as all standard safety features before, during and after the ride including GPS tracking, two-way feedback and the ability to share trip details with family and friends.
In the first three months of operation, over 25% of uberMOTO trips in Gurgaon (now Gurugram) began or ended near a metro station. In December last year, Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO and Founder, announced the imminent launch of uberMOTO in Hyderabad. Our ultimate hope for the future is to turn every journey into a shared journey using a combination of ridesharing and mass transit.

What steps is Uber taking to drive micro-entrepreneurship in India?
Each of our driver partners are microentrepreneurs. We launched UberSHAAN in 2016. This is an initiative seeking to create 1 million livelihood opportunities over the next two years in India. The vision of the programme is to skill and mobilise people to become micro-entrepreneurs on the Uber platform through partnerships with governments at both Centre and State level and as well as through mobilising corporate support for skill training. Through these partnerships, Uber is providing extensive support towards skill development and driver training programmes to create livelihood with dignity for India’s workforce, including women. We will continue to partner various organisations to mobilise and offer opportunities for women and look forward to getting more women drivers on board in the near future.

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