Uber has made enemies in the five years its cars have been on the road. Safety concerns have sparked lawsuits from regulators, its data collection practices have landed it in hot water, and CEO Travis Kalanick can't seem to shake his spoiled brat image.
He's aware of that. "I can come off as a fierce advocate for Uber. I also realize that some have used a different A-word to describe me," he said on Wednesday.
"I'm not perfect, and neither is this company," he said during an event at Uber's headquarters in San Francisco to commemorate the fifth anniversary of its launch in that city.
During a talk attended by employees of the company and Uber investors, Kalanick painted an idealized picture of the company not so much as a mobile app service, but as a benevolent force for society.
Uber, Kalanick said, provides not just a cheaper, more efficient form of transportation that bests owning a car, regular taxis, or even public transit. The company's technology can also improve cities by getting more cars off the road and reducing pollution, he said.
Uber’s service, which lets people hail a ride from their smartphones, is now active in more than 310 cities and nearly 60 countries around the world. In some countries, like Germany and India, Uber has wrestled with regulators over its legality.
Kalanick also used the event to make a plea to mayors across the U.S., asking them not to deprive people the right to drive for Uber because of “some outdated regulation.”
In the years ahead, Uber will continue to make changes to its service, particularly around the company’s low-cost UberX option, so that using Uber is cheaper than owning a car, Kalanick said.
Uber’s Uber Pool option, which lets multiple passengers share a ride for a lower cost, will also be a priority, he said. Currently that service is only available in a handful of cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Paris. In San Francisco, almost half of all rides are Uber Pool rides, Kalanick said.
Safety concerns still abound for the company. Uber, along with Lyft and Sidecar, has been asked by U.S. lawmakers to use fingerprint-based background checks for its drivers. Uber runs drivers’ Social Security numbers against county-by-county online records.
Uber has also been sued by the district attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles for misleading consumers about its background checks.
Late last year, after a woman in India was allegedly raped by her Uber driver, the company said it would begin developing biometrics and voice verification for enhanced driver screening. But the company did not say whether that would include fingerprint scanning.
Kalanick, during his talk, said that the company abides by “modern regulations” that protect the safety of passengers and drivers. But he did not give a detailed update on the company’s plans around fingerprint checks, which lawmakers say are more comprehensive and harder to fake.