Sunday 5 October 2014 11:48 pm

Uber taxi app: Founder Travis Kalanick’s plan to rid London of a million cars

London will be less congested and less polluted, app founder tells Oliver Smith

Travis Kalanick outlined what might be his most ambitious goal yet on Friday. Speaking to more than 2,000 business delegates at the Institute of Directors annual convention in the Royal Albert Hall, Kalanick said his four-year-old startup would aim to take a million cars off of London’s streets over the coming years.

“If we’ve got 3m cars on the road in London today, what if we could take a million cars off the road, what would it take?” Kalanick posed to delegates.

His answer; an additional 100,000 Uber drivers and a new ride option called UberPool in which passengers can share hired cars with riders travelling to roughly the same destination, resulting in dramatically cheaper fares, higher utilisation of Uber’s cars and fewer vehicles on the streets.

Kalanick says London is the perfect city to set such a bold goal for Uber. It will shortly be the company’s fastest growing city, overtaking Los Angeles, with more than 7,000 Uber drivers on the road, taking over half a million Londoners to their destinations. The firm could have a market cap of up to £12bn.

“London is the Champions League of transportation. It has got a more dynamic, more competitive transportation system than any other city in the world,” says Kalanick, speaking exclusively with City A.M.

“People are already able to get around without having cars. But when Uber makes that journey incrementally better, because it’s a competitive marketplace, a lot of people can move to that thing that’s better. Which is why we’ve seen so much growth here.”

Kalanick says his goal of taking a third of London’s 3m cars off the streets won’t only help congestion and reduce the capital’s carbon footprint, but will create 100,000 new jobs and dramatically expand the local economy.

Since co-founding Uber, which is nominated for two City A.M. awards including Business of the Year, Kalanick has never been shy of setting himself ambitious goals. The very notion of a smartphone app that would hail a driver at the push of a button in the real world was unheard of in 2009, and remains disruptive.

“We’re not just another Twitter app, our app operates in the real world. When I push a button something in the world moves,” says Kalanick. “But when you operate in the physical world and in cities, it’s a highly regulated environment.”

That environment has seen Uber clash with a number of incumbent stakeholders, most notably the taxi industries and transport regulators in many of the 204 cities across 45 countries that Uber operates.

In London, black cab drivers twice over the summer staged mass prot­ests, clogging up the capital’s streets over complaints that Uber drivers did not have the same regulatory restrictions imposed on them, creating an uneven playing field.

“How do you deal with arcane rules around the world, arcane rules that we want to comply with but that never contemplated technology and where innovation is going?” says Kalanick. “Of course it’s a distraction… but we’ve sort of accepted that that’s part of the landscape that we’re going into.”

Kalanick’s question of how Uber overcomes arcane rules and incumbent taxi groups has yet to be fully answered. But on Friday Kalanick admitted Uber had been overly aggressive in its dealings to date. “We have to be a little more diplomatic and a little more statesman-like… we need to get better at communicating the benefits of Uber… and I’m working on it.”