Uber’s air travel service and autonomous and electric cars may have been put on the backburner thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but these concepts are still very much at the forefront of the ride sharer’s future.
Speaking at the QUT Business Leaders’ Forum today via webcast, Uber’s regional general manager Australia, New Zealand and North Asia, Susan Anderson outlined the company’s overall concept of shaping the future of Australian cities.
She envisages testing of aerial taxis will begin in 2023 and that they will be broadly available by 2025. Autonomous cars will not be far behind.
“In a few more years we’ll have a better idea of where we’re at but by 2025 I would imagine these things will be a reality and they will change the way in which people move around cities,” Ms Anderson said.
Australia and New Zealand have embraced ride sharing like few other countries and while that side of the business has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, delivery business Uber Eats, which started just four years ago, has benefited.
“We saw what happened first in North Asia which gave the company time to develop a response in the rest of the world.
"We had to make some tough decisions about the business because we needed to make sure we knew where the opportunities were and how to resource them.”
Ms Anderson did not become a global leader by accident. Growing up in the United Kingdom, her mother encouraged her and her sister to be the first in family to go to university.
“She spent time working on private school scholarship applications, employed tutors for us and explored a whole world that was not familiar to her. And she helped me understand the joy of spending time around smart ambitious people with big ideas.”
Ms Anderson worked in leadership roles at Amazon and Bain & Co and says being successful comes down to listening to people, empowering them and giving them the tools to take control of problems.
“I like to go looking for the scary idea,” she said. “When I first arrived at Uber, I wanted to expand Uber Eats beyond Brisbane. I wanted to include places like Canberra and the Sunshine Coast, so I gave my team seven weeks.
“If we achieved that in nine weeks, that would be great, but if we said six months, it would have taken six months.”
Since its inception, Uber has had hiccups along the way. The company had to rebuild its reputation after global scandals, concerns about safely and the working conditions of its drivers.
But Ms Anderson says going forward, working with regulators to ensure customers and drivers are well protected is the priority.
“The story of Uber is around listening to customers and doing what they want while improving their lives. The company grew quickly because the product worked, and it was an opportunity that the drivers embraced globally because the experience was so good.”
“And I do still consider Uber to be a disrupter. Autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, car-rental models – that’s where future disruption is. “
The QUT Business Leaders’ Forum was moderated by journalist Kerry O’Brien.