Uber’s attitude to city regulators may have taken a U-turn.
The ride-hailing app’s new European director Jamie Heywood gave a speech at the London Infrastructure Summit on Wednesday, and his tone was considerably more conciliatory than what Uber is known for, having famously butted heads with city officials around the world.
The speech comes a little over two months after Uber won back its licence to operate in London, although the licence only lasts for 15 months, during which time it was instructed to get its house in order.
Heywood said that the last few years have been a “bumpy road” for the company, which has been plagued by a host of scandals, including allegations of a toxic corporate culture, inadequate background checks, and deploying software called “Greyball” to evade authorities.
Since having its licence restored, Heywood said the company is opening “a new chapter” in London. He announced that Uber will be introducing new safety features for passengers, plus sick leave as well as paternity and maternity protections for drivers.
He also said that Uber will be adopting a “new more cooperative approach to how we work with regulators and cities.” This is a far cry from the regulation-resistant image Uber has garnered in the past.
In large part Heywood’s speech focused on Uber integrating into the infrastructure of London’s transport system. He said that Uber’s biggest competition is individual car ownership, not taxi firms.
“We believe that with great public transport, infrastructure that better supports cycling, apps like Uber filling in the gaps — especially in the outer parts of cities — and yes, black cabs too — there will one day be no need for individuals to own their own car.”
Heywood laid emphasis on the potential for people to carshare using Uber, thereby reducing congestion and pollution.
He acknowledged this spirit of cooperation represents something of a character change, as he said working with others is “not something Uber has always been good at in the past.” But he reiterated that the company is now “committed to doing things differently.”
He also made mention of electric scooter services, but couched it by saying that this will be an option in “some countries.” Electric scooters have led to disagreements with city regulators before, and in the UK they are banned by a 183-year-old law originally intended to regulate horse-drawn carriages.
Uber has been making a lot of noise about becoming less combative with regulators, in July even hiring its first Compliance and Ethics Officer. Heywood’s speech is another sign that Uber could be ready to bend the knee to governmental oversight.
You can read Heywood’s full speech here:
We’re really proud to be supporting this year’s event and discussing some vital issues for the long-term future of our city, especially now that half the population of the capital regularly use Uber to help them get around.
And I’m delighted to be on stage for my first public event since joining the business just three months ago — though as ever with a company like Uber a LOT happens in a short space of time!
It’s clearly been a bumpy road for Uber over the last few years.
But we see our licence renewal this summer — and the big set of changes we have made over the last year — as a new chapter for Uber in London.
Of course there is still more work to do, but under our new leadership we’re bringing in:
- Improvements for passengers — from new safety features to 24/7 telephone support;
- Improvements for drivers — including for the first time sickness, injury, maternity and paternity protections;
- And a new more cooperative approach to how we work with regulators and cities.
Our shared vision with TfL
Indeed we share much of the vision of Transport for London and the Mayor for a city where people walk and cycle more, drive personal cars less, face less congestion, and breathe cleaner air.
Of course this will require continued improvements in public transport, but it also needs the participation and investment of all of us here today.
And crucially, if we’re really serious about keeping cities moving, the ambition for all of us should be the end of individual car ownership so that every vehicle on the road carries multiple people multiple times a day.
Because how can it make sense that the most expensive asset that many of us will ever own — aside from our homes —is a big hunk of metal that sits idle 95 per cent of the time?
How can it make sense that an extraordinary 16% of land in central London is dedicated to parking?
And how can it make sense that around six in ten car journeys in the capital have just one person in the vehicle?
That’s why I believe Uber’s real competition is private car ownership.
You’ll hear more on this from my colleague, Fred Jones, later this morning but…
We believe that with great public transport, infrastructure that better supports cycling, apps like Uber filling in the gaps — especially in the outer parts of cities — and yes, black cabs too — there will one day be no need for individuals to own their own car.
In fact, the emerging signs of this new future are clear:
- In the past 20 years, the number of teenagers holding a driving licence in the UK has fallen by 40%;
- More than four in ten Londoners told YouGov that alternatives like Uber can be preferable to owning a car;
- And property developers are now promising residents credits for services like Uber if they give up a parking space.
What Uber is doing to make it a reality
But there is a long way to go.
We want our app to become a one-stop shop for every transport option.
So, if you need to get from A to B, you’ll soon be able to tap our app and see a whole range of choices.
Not just cars, but bicycles, public transport and — in some countries — electric scooters too.
And if the quickest and cheapest way to get somewhere is by taking a bus or a bike, we’ll tell you.
Of course this may cost Uber in the short-term, but we believe it’s essential for the long-term success of not just our business but our cities and communities too.
And we believe we can be a part of the solution to some of the huge challenges London and other big cities face — not least air quality and congestion.
This means we have to work with, not against, others. That’s not something Uber has always been good at in the past. But under our new leadership, we are committed to doing things differently:
- Helping urban planners by opening up our rich journey data for the public good — and you can see our new tool Uber Movement in action in the exhibition stand today;
- Innovating with transport operators like Virgin Trains — so that passengers can get seamless door-to-door travel across different transportation modes with just one ticket;
- Investing in new ways for people to get around their cities — from shared bikes to electric scooters;
- And working with the industry to encourage the speedy adoption of electric vehicles — with our bold ambition for Uber to be all-electric in London by 2025.
What the future could look like
Imagine a world where all the vehicles on the road are shared and electric.
There would be less air pollution, less congestion, less space wasted on parking and more land freed up for housing and green spaces.
But to get there we need our infrastructure to catch up. That means:
- A massive expansion of rapid chargers for electric vehicles;
- More dedicated spaces for bike-sharing;
- And bolder options like designated car-free streets.
And not just physical infrastructure — digital too. In TfL, this city is lucky to have a transport authority that has pioneered digital innovation — from contactless payments to app integrations to wifi deep underground — and it’s vital that as a city we adopt that digital-first mindset as we gear up for a cashless, connected future offering tech-enabled transport for all.
The people in this room — be it business, government, academics — are never going to agree on everything. But when it comes to the future of our cities, I take heart from the fact that we have so many common goals — be it around air quality, congestion, or accessibility. Ultimately, it’s about making the places we live more liveable.
These are big issues, but we believe that with the public and private sectors working in partnership — and focused on long-term, sustainable success – we can ensure our cities move more freely, enjoy cleaner air and are accessible to all.