Boston-Area Commuters Could Become Rush-Hour Uber Drivers, CEO Says

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, seen here in this April 2014 file photo, spoke at a Boston event Tuesday. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, seen here in this April 2014 file photo, spoke at a Boston event Tuesday. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The CEO of the ride-hailing service Uber, Travis Kalanick, told a downtown Boston business audience on Tuesday that his company will be hiring millions more drivers in the U.S. in the coming year.

And if you commute to work by car in select cities, that could mean you.

That's because Kalanick said Uber is planning to offer a new service in U.S. cities that he claimed will ease traffic congestion by taking "carpooling to the next level."

How would it work? A lot like an Uber ride, except from someone else who's normally stuck on, say, the Mass Pike at the same time you are.

"You're commuting to work and you're driving your own car," Kalanick explained. "You turn on the driver app and then pick somebody up on your way to work."

Kalanick said he thinks there are drivers who would be willing to go minutes out of their way to pick someone up heading to a similar destination for the workday. Those drivers would get some money to help cover the costs of daily driving, and for the passenger, it would be like taking an Uber to work. And instead of two cars on the road that day, there would be one, reducing costs, congestion and pollution, he said.

"We do imagine a world where there’s no more traffic in Boston in five years," Kalanick said.

That statement got a skeptical laugh from his audience, the Boston College Chief Executives Club. But Kalanick said the success of the company's recent uberPOOL service shows the potential for expanding ride-sharing beyond Uber's core point-to-point taxi-like options.

The uberPOOL service is where regular Uber drivers take multiple passengers along a similar route, lowering the per-person cost for a ride when compared with a conventional hailed ride. The company launched the service in Boston in August, and Kalanick said it's "a large and growing percent of the rides here in Boston." He also said uberPOOL rides account for nearly half of all Uber rides in San Francisco.

Following Kalanick's appearance, there were no further details from Uber as to which U.S. cities might be the first to debut the "UberCommute" service he spoke about, or when the service is slated to be unveiled.

During his remarks, Kalanick talked more about Uber's growth and future plans than he did about current regulatory issues facing the company.

He said that a plan some in Massachusetts (including Boston's police commissioner) have been calling for — fingerprinting Uber drivers — could be discriminatory.

Massachusetts lawmakers are weighing legislation to regulate ride-hailing companies. State legislators plan to take up a ride-hailing bill in 2016.


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Curt Nickisch Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.



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