The co-founder of the controversial $40bn (£26bn) taxi app Uber defended the company’s safety record yesterday as he outlined ambitious plans to create 50,000 jobs across Europe this year and take 400,000 privately owned cars off the road.
Travis Kalanick, who was recently told he could be locked up for two years if he ever visits South Korea, said Uber was the “safest way around to get from A to B”, but admitted that more needed to be done to protect customers. As well as being accused of operating illegal taxis in South Korea, the company was rocked by the alleged rape of a woman in India by a driver working for the company.
“It’s terrible, we all have mothers, wives or daughters,” he said about the incident at a conference in Munich. “We need to make sure that things like this never happen. We are part of an effort to make cities safer and will go above and beyond what governments require from us.”
Uber was founded by Mr Kalanick and the Canadian entreprenuer Garrett Camp in 2009. It operates in more than 200 cities across the world, having grown rapidly by offering cheap rates and a user-friendly smartphone service to find and pay drivers. In December, the company was valued at $40bn after raising $1.2bn from investors to boost its international expansion.
However, it is by no means universally popular. Last year a protest by at least 5,000 London cabbies brought central London to a standstill.
Critics have accused Uber of gaining an “unfair competitive advantage” by processing London jobs through its Dutch subsidiary, thereby allowing it to pay a lower rate of VAT on the commission it takes from fares.
The company was also embroiled in a row with journalists after a senior executive suggested that it was planning to hire a team to dig dirt on reporters who had written negatively about it.
Adopting a more conciliatory tone at the DLD Conference, Mr Kalanick – who was forced to deny he was a “bully” last year – said Uber had created 7,500 full-time jobs in San Francisco, 13,750 in New York, and 7,800 in London. He said background checks on drivers, GPS tracking systems, customer feedback and the ability to share trips with friends and family protected customers.
He also accused regulators of creating new rules to protect the regulated taxi industry, but said 2015 would be a year of expansion across the continent, which he would personally oversee by spending more time in Europe.
Among its recent innovations are UberPool, which lets random passengers share journeys when going in the same direction.
“We want to make 2015 the year where we establish a new partnership with EU cities. With the success we’ve had, we can go to any city mayor and say we can promise you up to 10,000 jobs in two years,” he added.
“There are about 1 billion cars in the world today and I think that about 96 per cent of them are under-utilised. We use about 15 per cent of our space in cities just to park our cars, and we have to deal with problems like drink-driving. There’s also a massive carbon footprint that we all have to deal with.
“Our goal is to drive down the cost of taking Uber below the cost of owning a car.”