At a press conference held near the Giza pyramids, Ethan Stock, product director at Uber, explained to an audience of government officials, diplomats, and journalists the new Uber services. Uber Bus is part of the company’s global plan of targeting new customers with low cost shared trips. Uber Lite is a new simplified version of the main application that can operate on any Android phone. The US-giant company’s market value is estimated to be $76bn.
After leading Facebook’s youth team which works across Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram to identify the social and communications needs of the younger users, Stock joined Uber in early 2017.
Stock leads product management for shared rides, which operates UberPool, a service launched in 2014. In early 2018, Express Pool was launched, offering riders a lower-cost shared ride in exchange for riders choosing to walk to meet the driver at a spot along the route. Stock is concluding 2018 by launching the Uber Bus.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Stock, looking for answers on Uber’s next big step, its vision for the future of transportation, and the ways by which the company deals with its problems. The transcript of the interview is below lightly edited for clarity.
Do you think shared rides are more affordable to customers than the UberX service? Is that why you launched the Uber Bus?
Yes, this is exactly what we are trying to do with the UberBus. Many people go to work every day and afford to use Uber as the cost to take a taxi five or seven years ago, is still the same now in Uber and we are significantly improving over time. Yet, the question is how we can create a service for the people whose incomes do not allow them to use Uber every day.
To clarify further, if you put a vehicle’s cost and a driver’s time into consideration, you will find out that the driver is making a good income out of the Uber service, but the fare should not go lower, or that is going to impact the driver’s earnings. The best way to solve this problem is by having a shared ride through the Uber Bus which will have several people sharing the ride, as supposed to UberX with one person paying for the entire cost. This way, we can significantly reduce the cost that people pay, while continuing to provide good earnings for drivers.
Being stuck in a traffic jam can be wearisome, so are there any features in the bus for entertaining the passengers?
Our vision is to have fewer private vehicles on the road by getting more people into shared vehicles, as buses. We are focusing on reducing the congestion and making all these trips faster, thereby improving traffic. As for the entertainment, there are many companies such as Facebook that do a pretty good job of helping people entertain themselves while they are riding vehicles like Uber.
What are you planning to do after launching the Uber Bus and Uber Lite? What is the next step?
This is actually the most important part of the process. After both, Uber Bus and Uber Lite, are launched, the long process of making them truly great services begins. We focus on the very little details that make up a perfect service. This is the core of what I and the engineering team are going to do for the next couple of years. We aim to make our technology and products as good as they can possibly be.
Cyber-attacks and hacking are becoming critical issues, and people are worried about their personal information, so how does Uber use their customers’ data?
We have extremely good data security, and we put a lot of time and effort in making sure that nothing happens to our clients’ data. Uber is in charge of some incredibly important data such as address, contacts, financials, and even family members’ details. We obtain this data in order to have a service that is perfectly tailored for each customer. Therefore, Uber makes sure to take very good care of this sensitive information.
Can you tell me more about Uber’s hacking incident last year?
Hacking is a problem that big technological companies face, we and many others are working as hard as we can to prevent any of our data and clients’ from getting hacked.
Some governments request companies to share their customers’ data with them, do you have the intention of sharing such data with governments?
I am not familiar with our policy details, but I believe that we follow the laws of the countries where we operate because we intend to operate legally within these countries. We do everything that we can, within the country’s legal framework, to protect the privacy and personal safety of our users.
Is Uber planning to have advertisements for the new application? or to share users’ data with third parties aiming to get advertisements?
One of the great things about Uber is the primary value that we get from interacting with our customers, as it is not a free service. Many of those models you referred to are for companies such as Facebook, YouTube, or Google, where the user does notpay for that service. In Uber, we have a different relationship with both our riders and drivers, with the former earning money and the latter spending money byusing our service. Uber allows us to focus on the primary economic relationship we have with our users, rather than secondary relationship that could potentially impact our privacy such as advertising.
Some governments feel that their authorities are being transferred to Uber, how do you see the future of ride sharing technology as Uber’s product director?
I think that technology has a huge impact on improving cities. If you look at the efficiency with which Uber’s riders and drivers operate, we are definitely making a change. By putting this together in an application with sophisticated software, and by matching algorithms and mapping, we make it better for drivers, riders, and cities. Through Uber’s cars, scooters, bikes, and buses, we want to integrate our system with public transport. Authorities also want to create an efficient public transportation system, for example in London, the public transportation system is very efficient, yet it is actually privately operated under the ‘Transport for London’. When I look into the future of how we work with the authorities, I think we will continue to operate private systems of transportation as we do today, but I also think that there is even a greater opportunity for us to partner with governments to operate parts of public transportation on their behalf.
What is Uber’s plan with the autonomous car project, especially after the unfortunate accident when a woman was hit and died? Is the project still operating?
The service was under experimentation, this is actually an example of the constant work we do to improve our services, before and after launching a service. The incident was very tragic, and we significantly revised our safety procedure sin order to prevent this from happening ever again. I do not work directly with that team, but I know that they are still testing this service. We do believe that autonomous cars are part of the future.
Could you tell us more about Uber Elevate? Will we be able to have flying cars soon?
Uber Elevate is another project that we are working on. We are working hard to invent a future service, but this is the future that will not arrive in one or two years, rather in five to ten years. We also think that Cairo might be a wonderful place for something like this, because it is a large area with high traffic. With the new electric technology for flying vehicles, the cost of flying vehicles will be low compared to gas-powered-helicopters, and it will be very safe as well. We think that there is a very interesting opportunity to create an efficient system for a flying Uber in the future. Yet, this is something I do not currently working on as I am focusing on the next five years for Uber, but I am excited that we are a company that has this kind of vision, where there are people working on far future projects, while the rest of us are focused on today and the next few years.