In Conversation With Prabhjeet Singh – President, Uber India & South Asia

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How is Uber fairing after the second wave? What are some of your major initiatives rolled out in the recent past?

The biggest lesson we have learned through both the first and the second wave is how we, as a business, could deliver impact and touch lives even during this once in a century disruption like a global pandemic. It taught us the need to be ready for disruption and to be more innovative and resilient.

On the business recovery side, one thing we know for sure is that when cities start moving again, so does Uber. Things change very quickly even though the course of the pandemic remains hard to predict. The need for safe, affordable and reliable transport options is at the core of consumer demand, and that’s what Uber provides. Our product portfolio comprises a range of two, three and four wheel products to suit different segments of the market and use cases. Low cost products, especially Auto and Moto are recovering faster than the other categories. Mumbai and Delhi seem to be favoring Autos and we are seeing higher activity than pre-pandemic levels there. Demand for our delivery service Uber Connect has grown 7x during the pandemic with many people using it to transport essentials like groceries, non-prescription medication, medical devices, and care packages to family and loved ones.

In the last six months, we have rolled out a range of initiatives for Riders, Drivers, Cities and Communities. We know that vaccination is the key to getting cities and economies moving again. In March 2021, Uber extended its support for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), State Governments, and local NGOs in the form of free rides worth INR 10 Crores for everyone eligible for vaccination, including our riders. We also partnered with NGOs like HelpAge India and the Robin Hood Army for deploying free rides for transporting underserved, vulnerable and underprivileged elderly citizens to vaccination centers.

During the second wave, to strengthen India’s healthcare system, we extended an INR 3.65 crores free rides package for supporting emergency COVID relief efforts such as facilitating transportation of life-saving oxygen cylinders, concentrators, ventilators and other critical medical equipment. Uber’s support is being channeled through partnerships with several NGOs that specialize in mobilizing emergency assistance to save and sustain lives. The relief package included free rides to NGOs for emergency response efforts. The NGO Partners include American India Foundation, Go Dharmic, The Good Quest Foundation etc.

Our goal at the moment remains a strong recovery of the business by ensuring safety on our platform, and that’s why we are doubling down on our efforts to vaccinate drivers on our platform. Earlier in April, we allocated INR 18.5 crore to pay out cash incentives to 150,000 drivers for time spent in getting their shots and we have almost reached this target. 

How do you think the recent policy support from the government has been for realising the full potential of the EV market?

We are very encouraged by the big push we are seeing for Electric Mobility at the Federal Level, as well as across several States. This is in alignment with our commitment to becoming a zero emission platform globally by 2040. We are supportive of any efforts that would help drive a green recovery post the pandemic. We have taken note of the multiple initiatives that States are taking, such as CAPEX subsidy and waiver of registration fees, to drive greater EV adoption. 

We also find it encouraging that regulators are zeroing in on 2 and 3 wheelers as the categories that will drive the faster transition to electric. We believe that these categories are likely to see commercial viability emerge relatively quicker. This, of course, would need to be aided by the rapid development of charging infrastructure, which is now being prioritised by some States. We believe these steps shall boost driver confidence in the EV segment. It also helps that important last mile issues, such as vehicle financing solutions, are being addressed.

What have been some technological advancements at Uber?

Behind every successful Uber ride is cutting edge technology that many of us take for granted. Our efforts are focused on making that ride experience as seamless as possible and we are committed to providing reliable, convenient and safer transportation options for everyone, everywhere. To make that possible, we’ve built a technology platform that uses complex algorithms to connect riders with driver partners. We leverage pioneering work in the realms of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data to innovate several industry-first solutions in many parts of the world. 

Technology is not just key to our growth strategy but also integral to the way we do business. Whether it is ensuring faster ETAs, maintaining demand and supply equilibrium, or ensuring safety before, during and after the ride, technology makes it all possible for us. 

Here are some of the innovations driven by the India Tech team over the past couple of years that enabled keeping crucial supply lines open through the pandemic.

  • Our Customer Obsession team leveraged artificial intelligence and machine learning to virtualise support for driver and courier partners across the world, preventing them from having to physically visit support centers. 
  • The Eats Engineering team in India led the integration of digital wallet payments in Japan and Belgium, offering access to essential items and food to scores of people. 
  • We enabled the delivery of prescription medication in the US so that patients didn’t have to step out of the safety of their homes to get their medicines. 
  • Leveraging artificial intelligence, we enabled a mask detection feature for drivers and riders, towards making rides safer through the new normal. 
  • We leveraged workflow tools to ensure speedy payments to driver partners in India to compensate them for the time they spent getting vaccinated. 
  • We re-engineered Uber’s tech stack to allow third-party cabs to be booked through the Uber app in parts of the UK. This helped us offer convenient travel options to riders in cities we weren’t directly present in. This was done in partnership with cab aggregator Autocab. 

What role do you see Uber playing in the Indian EV industry in the next 5 years?

Sustainability is a team sport and the entire ecosystem has a role to play in driving this critical agenda. We’re all in it together to fight against carbon emissions and play our part in reducing our carbon footprint. We’re committed to doing our bit towards building a shared, zero emission, multimodal, and inclusive platform for on-demand mobility.

Last year, we announced our global commitment to a zero emissions mobility platform. Our Green Future program provides access to resources valued at $800 million to help thousands of drivers transition to battery EVs by 2025 in Canada, Europe, and the US. Our target is to facilitate 100% emission-free rides in all US, Canada, and European cities by 2030 and 100% emission-free rides globally by 2040. 

India has a big pollution problem as 14 out of the 20 most polluted cities globally are in India. Our vision is to be a part of the solution and drive a green recovery. We believe shared, zero emission, multimodal and inclusive mobility can deliver outsized environmental benefits and help cities meet critical economic, climate and electrification goals. For instance, when we help high-utilization rideshare drivers make a fair transition to electric vehicles, communities can realize 3 to 4 times greater emissions savings compared to when average car owners switch. Therefore, we are focusing on piloting solutions to test the scalability of existing EVs and work to build regulatory sandboxes for pilots with the Government.

All modes of transport are transitioning towards electric, with 2Ws & 3Ws ahead of the curve compared to 4Ws. We have over 5,500 EV vehicles onboarded on our platform to date, across 2, 3 and 4 wheels as well as ‘e rickshaws’. We have partnered with Lithium Urban Technologies, the largest EV fleet operator, to deploy over 1,000 electric vehicles across Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune. After our partnerships with Yulu, Mahindra and SUN Mobility, Lithium is our fourth partnership in this space that underscores our long term commitment to greener cities and creating healthier lives. 

We have also rolled out hundreds of electric rickshaws in Delhi NCR and Greater Kolkata for first and last mile connectivity. We have completed 7M clean/green kilometers with over 5,500+ electric vehicles (4W, 3W and 2W) onboarded to date on our platform.  

Our plans are to scale up further to have more EVs on our platform and expand E-Ricks beyond these two markets.

How is Uber gaining the confidence of its Driver partners?

Drivers are at the heart of our business and there is no Uber without drivers. Their wellbeing has always been and remains a top priority. Supporting driver communities has never been more important ever since the onset of the pandemic. Over the past year, we have taken a range of actions to maintain and improve drivers’ earnings, and we remain committed to doing as much as we can for their safety and well being.

During the first wave of COVID in 2020, we created additional earning opportunities for them by offering tens of thousands of free rides to state governments, and for services provided on UberMedic, UberEssential, UberConnect and last mile delivery

The lockdown also made us cognisant of the fact that our actions have a material impact on others and this made us raise the bar and set new safety benchmarks. Among a range of comprehensive safety measures, we pioneered the safety screens in cabs with the UberMedic service and it became a norm. We installed over 200,000 safety screens in cars and autos.  

Our pledge of free rides for vaccination worth INR 10 Crores created immediate earning opportunities for drivers.  Earlier in April, we allocated INR 18.5 crore (USD 2.5 Million) to pay out cash incentives to 150,000 drivers for time spent in getting their shots. Car, Auto and Moto drivers showing digital vaccination certificates are eligible for this. In May 2021, we announced an updated financial support program for drivers diagnosed with COVID, where drivers will be able to claim 14 days in partial earnings support after they furnish an RT PCR test from an accredited lab. Impacted drivers can get up to a maximum of INR 6,800 in partial earnings support for 14 days, depending upon their city of residence and tenure on the platform. This year alone, Uber has facilitated 9,000 free online medical consultations for drivers and their families through MediBuddy.

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