A high-ranking Uber executive spoke before the Vancouver Board of Trade this morning (September 25).
“We are eager to come here to Vancouver to help build our business,” said Uber chief advisor David Plouffe. “It is the largest metro area in North America without ridesharing….We think that is a shame and so we are eager to work with local government officials, the provincial government, to find a pathway forward to bring ride sharing.”
Plouffe—who worked as a campaign manager for U.S. President Barack Obama during his successful campaign of 2008—described the digital ride-hailing service as “an important value proposition for areas like the Vancouver metro area”.
His presentation began with a folksy story about how Uber started as an idea two gentlemen had struggling to find a cab in Paris.
From there, Plouffe ran down a long list of benefits that would follow the Government of British Columbia modernizing regulations to allow for a ridesharing service like Uber.
He argued Uber gives individuals the ability to work when they want and therefore also the freedom to spend time with their children or an aging parent when they would rather do that.
Next he noted 50 percent of Uber drivers worldwide spend less than 10 hours per week driving for the company. He suggested that means a majority of drivers have a primary job and are likely only using Uber to top up their bank accounts by an extra $10,000 or $12,000 per year.
“To those people, that is a small miracle,” Plouffe said. “This debate about whether Uber comes to the Vancouver area, you are talking about ultimately tens of thousands of people—your citizens—who are going to be able to improve their lives.”
He added it is not only individuals who benefit but the economy as a whole. Plouffe explained Uber has data indicating tourists already in Vancouver are trying to use the app to travel and spend money around the city but are finding they cannot yet access the service here.
“Our estimates are we have had 100,000 people in the last year, not from this area, come to British Columbia and try and use Uber but they can’t use it,” he said.
Plouffe also argued ride-hailing services like Uber help cities decrease congestion. He said that upshot will only get better with the introduction of new services like uberPOOL or uberCOMMUTE, which both expand on the ride-hail model to carry more than one paying customer in a single vehicle.
“If any of you are inclined to want to see Uber and other ridesharing companies here, we’d humbly ask you to lift your voice,” he concluded.
The floor then opened up to allow for questions.
The first was predictably about taxis, how they would be affected by Uber entering Vancouver, and how the two could coexist.
Plouffe didn’t hold back.
“In the history of humankind, anybody who has a monopoly doesn’t want to give it up,” he said. “So I understand that perspective. But I would say a couple of things. With ridesharing, yes, there is some competition for taxis….But the vast majority of our riders, the choice they are making is not driving their own car. So the market grows.
“The taxi owners, in particular, they do not want to give up a monopoly,” he continued. “But they also don’t want their drivers to have much of another option. Most taxi drivers pay $100 to $150 before they start their day. They are in the hole, they are renting. With us, you use your own car and you start driving. It is profit from moment one. So this is good from the taxi drivers.”
Another question was where Uber is heading.
Plouffe cautioned that with technology evolving so fast, predictions on where a company like Uber can go are tough to make. But he added that in the short term, the goal is a ride available for anybody who wants one within three minutes of the push of a button.
“There is no question that when new technologies emerge, that can cause some conflict,” Plouffe said.
He noted that new laws that accommodate ride-hailing apps have passed in more than 60 cities across the United States and in many more jurisdictions around the world.
"This is not a question of, ‘Is there a way to make ridesharing work,’” he said. “There is plenty of ways to make it work. We just have to have the debate and the dialogue. And that is what we are hungry to do here in Vancouver and in the province and throughout Canada.”