Uber is seeking to expand beyond the ride-sharing industry in Washington, D.C., to provide a larger transportation network for District residents, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a panel discussion on the future of mobility with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on April 11.
Uber’s new Greenlight Hub, a driver resource center in Ward 7, hosted the event, led by Robert Puentes, the CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, an independent think tank dedicated to improving transportation and its public and private leadership in order to increase the system’s mobility, safety and sustainability.
Bowser and Khosrowshahi emphasized the need to ensure that District residents all have equal access to the transportation services developed by Uber through increased safety measures, affordability and equity, while stressing the importance of resolving disparities in transportation access.
“Urban transportation has a major impact on the daily lives of all D.C. residents,” Bowser said at the event. “That is why we are committed to being the capital of mobility innovation and continue to invest in strategies that make our commutes safer, stronger, more reliable and more efficient for residents across all eight wards.”
Khosrowshahi challenged Bowser’s plan to raise taxes on ride-hailing companies like Uber to generate sufficient funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s funding package announcedearlier this year. In the plan, which was approved Friday, taxes on Uber will increase to 4.5 percent from 1 percent to fund a revitalization plan for the Metro transit system, which has suffered from safety and reliability issues,as well as a declining ridership.
Bowser defended the plan and said that it was the best option for the District moving forward.
“That is the package that we think is the most fair — that hits property owners, it hits visitors, it hits residents and it hits the ride-sharing services — that we think is best for the city,” Bowser said.
But Khosrowshahi said the tax is a reallocation of similar resources and argued the plan was taxing one form of transportation for another, rather than a productive tax.
Uber’s D.C. Director of Public Relations Colin Tooze said the company does not see itself in competition with Metro or public transportation but rather sees itself as a part of a “complex ecosystem” of different transportation options.
Uber’s recent acquisitions and partnerships demonstrate the company’s interest in moving into the public space, however. One recent acquisition, Masabi, a London-based mobile ticketing service, will allow Uber to integrate into public transportation.
“You can use your Uber app to take a train, to take a subway, to take buses again on a global basis so that we are promoting mass-transit solutions as well,” Khosrowshahi said.
Uber’s recent acquisitions include bike-share startup JUMP and mobile ticketing service Masabi, both of which allow the company to move into new transportation areas.
Uber’s partnership with SharedStreets allows D.C. and the company to share transportation data. Aggregated traffic information will help cities solve congestion, Khosrowshahi said. Uber Movement uses this aggregated user data to work with cities to improve urban planning.
The panelists said they hope D.C. residents will be empowered by the wide range of transportation options planned to become available to them through the public-private partnerships, allowing them to have easier transportation throughout the city.
“Uber is transitioning from being a service that allows people to request cars at the tap of a button, to being a mobility platform that brings together all kinds of ways to get from A to B,” Tooze said.
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