Uber CEO Travis Kalanick: There Was An Uber Way Before Uber

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Mar 16, 2016

Taking the stage at TED2016 conference, Travis Kalanick, founder of the world's most valuable startup, shared his game plan to get more people into fewer cars subsequently cutting congestion, pollution and parking. Before getting into how Uber plans to do that Kalanick talked extensively about a company called Jitney that started in 1914.

The company founded by a man called LP Draper did the same thing that UberPOOL, the ride sharing wing of Uber is doing today. As Kalanick described to the audience: "There was an Uber way before Uber. And if it had survived, the future of transportation would probably already be here. So let me introduce you to the jitney. In 1914 it was created or invented by a guy named LP Draper. He was a car salesman from LA, and he had an idea. Well, he was cruising around downtown Los Angeles, my hometown, and he saw trolleys with long lines of people trying to get to where they wanted to go. He said, well, why don't I just put a sign on my car that takes people wherever they want to go for a jitney -- that was slang for a nickel. And so people jumped on board, and not just in Los Angeles but across the country. And within one year, by 1915, there were 50,000 rides per day in Seattle, 45,000 rides per day in Kansas and 150,000 rides per day in Los Angeles."

Unfortunately, Jitney did not last long. A host of competitors got into work and convinced the cities to put together regulations that put the company out of business.

However, after 100 years of Jitney, Kalanick's company, Uber, aims to do the same thing: people sharing rides with each other. To test the market, Uber launched UberPOOL in Los Angeles early 2015 and so far the company has added 100,000 new people that are carpooling every week. But Kalanick aims to go big: "uberPOOL is a very great solution for urban carpooling. But what about the suburbs?" he asks.

For taking carpooling out of only urban areas, Uber recently launched another service called uberCOMMUTE. As Kalanic put it: "You get up in the morning, get ready for work, get your coffee, go to your car and you light up the Uber app, and all of a sudden, you become an Uber driver. And we'll match you up with one of your neighbors on your way to work and it's a really great thing."

But this is not as simple as it sounds. As Kalanick said: "There's just one hitch ... it's called regulation."

Kalanick said, it is great that we are talking about self-driving cars but it will take 10/20 years to make self-driving cars a reality and we can do better without self-driving cars. Kalanick argued: "with the technology in our pockets today, and a little smart regulation, we can turn every car into a shared car, and we can reclaim our cities starting today."


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Ruhul Kader is a technology and business analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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