Last Tuesday, just after the California DMV revoked self-driving vehicle registrations, Arizona governor Doug Doucey welcomed Uber’s self-driving pilot program to Tempe. His statement: “Arizona welcomes Uber’s self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads. While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses.” Ducey envisions a future of innovation and economic growth, and believes that testing self -driving cars will help pave the way for opening Arizona to the “sharing economy”. This is undoubtably a major push by the state of Arizona to become a hub for technological change and transformation in a way that has not been seen here before.
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing John Hamby, Manager of Community Outreach and Operations Manager for Uber here in Phoenix, Arizona. After his visit to Thunderbird, not only did I gain a new level of understanding about how much political and social work is put in behind the scenes by the company, but also I became intrigued with finding out more about the vision Uber has for the future and the problems they are trying to solve. Here’s what John had to say about self-driving vehicles, the role of political affairs in his job, and why this era of disruptive innovation matters so much.
How long do you think it will be before people get into the cars and actually feel 100% comfortable? Do you think this will affect Uber drivers’ trust / mentality?
“The launch of Self-Driving Vehicles was very successful in Tempe. Governor Ducey as well as many media outlets came out to see 10 Self-Driving Vehicles hit the streets of Tempe. While safety is our number one priority when it comes to all of our transportation options, “being comfortable” is a unique opportunity for us when it comes to Self-Driving Vehicles. Comfortability varies from person to person. We’ve heard from riders who can’t wait to get in one and we’ve heard from riders who think it will take a little more time for them to do it. As with anything, we will see early adopters and we look forward to them sharing how safe and incredible of an experience it really is! There will always be room for drivers, as Self-Driving Vehicles aren’t going to take over the world over night. It will take some cities years to adopt this technology. In the meantime, we are working hard to maximize driver partner earnings and provide future opportunities for them to continue to make extra cash.”
How big a role do Political Affairs play into your daily activities and your role at Uber? What is a current project you are working on that you are particularly passionate about?
“While my role isn’t directly a Political Affairs role by any means, the political climate of our cities has a direct effect in all of our roles at Uber. When a government body is favorable towards Uber or has passed favorable regulations for Uber, we are able to do business in a much more efficient manner, while still needing to comply with any compliance standards. 2017 is going to be a big year for the Desert Region as we really start living our Community Pillars of Education, Equality, and Ending Hunger and Homelessness. I can’t share all the details quite yet but we are looking forward to celebrating the teachers that we have driving with Uber during the Summer and a favorable government and community will be playing a big role in this.”
Why do the things happening with electric cars, aerospace, and sustainable energy production matter so much?
“Sustainability remains a top and rising priority for the entire world. As we take a quick turn to building “Smart Cities”, companies such as Uber have a responsibility to do their part. With products like UberPool where riders share a ride with a driver and another rider, Uber is doing their part of taking cars off the road. Populations are increasing, people want to live closer to downtown areas to be a part of the action, and cities are starting to feel the pain. Sustainable energy and products will help keep costs down and conserve valuable natural resources in the long run paving the way for more livable/walkable cities.”
What is Uber’s vision for the future?
“Make no mistake about it, one of Uber’s major goals is to put MORE PEOPLE IN LESS CARS. With a majority of cars on the road being empty about 95% of the time, we want to simply fill those seats and reward the people who drive those cars. If you have a car, you should be able to turn that car into an ATM. With more people in less cars we will be able to reduce congestion, remove parking garages, and reduce pollution, therefore helping us reclaim our cities and get around a whole lot more smoothly. The closer we can get to everyone living and the more that people utilize Uber’s ridesharing services, we will be able to get the price of Uber so affordable that owning a car will be a thing of the past.”
Lastly, how many of your ideas and projects are generated internally? Are you open to people outside of Uber approaching you with new ideas?
“Projects are generated internally through our incredibly diverse and talented employees that we hire. We thrive off a “Best Ideas Win” culture where any idea, no matter who you are, can be implemented with solid quantifiable and qualifiable data. While many of our best ideas come from riders and drivers (focus groups, in-car experiences..etc), our employees are still full of brilliant ideas and are great at solving the real-world problems that we see everyday. We are always open to new ideas…that’s how we get better!”