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accj-event-uberUber Technologies Inc.—a pioneer in modern-day ridesharing—is the force behind the global smartphone app that connects those in need of a ride with nearby independent drivers. Uber has grown significantly since its public launch in 2011, now operating in more than 600 cities and 70 countries, while serving more than 8 million users. Though criticized for being “too big,” Uber has a vision for how it can help shape the future of transportation by improving general mobility, while reducing congestion and pollution.

On November 2 at Tokyo American Club, David Plouffe, senior vice president of policy and strategy at Uber Technologies, outlined the company’s vision, growth, and some of the challenges it has faced.

Plouffe opened with an overview of car ownership and its effect on the environment. There are currently more than 2 billion cars in the world, and these generate 20 percent of global carbon emissions. Cars are also one of the least-efficient resources that people own. For the average working family, a car is one of the most expensive assets, being used just 4 percent of the time. In the United States, 10 percent of millennials have given up their car, preferring to walk, bike-share, take public transit, or use ride-sharing services.

Uber is tackling these issues in a variety of ways. According to Plouffe, the company has saved over 6 million gallons of fuel to date through its car-pooling program UberPool, preventing 55,560 tonnes of CO2 from entering our atmosphere. UberPool now accounts for 20 percent of Uber’s business. In San Francisco and Los Angeles that number rises to 50 percent, and cities such as Toronto and Mexico City are quickly catching up. With advances in technology and an increase in consumer adoption, Uber predicts that UberPool and similar services will continue to grow.

Uber is also working to improve general mobility. Many people around the world cannot get to where they need to go to change their circumstances, whether it be for school or work. According to Plouffe, the top reason people stay trapped in poverty is the cost and time of transportation. Public transit does not reach everyone’s front door, and 30 percent of US jobs require a 90-minute commute by public transit. Uber is a seamless way to extend public transportation, especially into the suburbs.

One thing governments struggle with is how to get more income to more people. Platforms such as Uber level the playing field by allowing individuals to be more mobile and have greater access to work opportunities. They can decide when and where to work, empowering them to earn income on their own terms. For example, a small business owner, student, or retiree with a Toyota Prius can benefit enormously from driving three hours a week to generate supplemental income.

Economic numbers have improved over the years, but wage stagnation has not—so mobility and opportunities for additional income are key. A regulatory system that allows enough drivers who pass necessary checks and tests on the road is crucial if ride-sharing platforms such as Uber are to thrive and serve their customers.

Uber’s goal is to ensure that drivers always have someone in the back seat or something in the trunk for delivery—and they are getting close to that in some cities. Uber gives all drivers the ability to work on their own terms, to decide when and where to work. As Plouffe sees it, platforms such as Uber that give people maximum control are the answer to the future of urban mobility.

Tetsuhiro Higuchi is a writer from New York working with Custom Media.
Uber’s goal is to ensure that drivers always have someone in the back seat or something in the trunk for delivery.