Uber to open hub in Toronto and ex­pand self-driv­ing cen­tre

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - BUSINESS - Tara Des champs

TORONTO — Uber Tech­nolo­gies Inc. is build­ing a roadmap to be­come more than a ride-hail­ing app and it’s chief ex­ec­u­tive is in­di­cat­ing Toronto will fig­ure into that tran­si­tion.

Dara Khos­row­shahi hinted at global plans for bus and train ser­vices, the ex­pan­sion of its Jump bike and e-scooter rentals, more part­ner­ships with pub­lic tran­sit providers and au­tonomous ve­hi­cle ef­forts in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press, where he stressed how im­por­tant the city is to the com­pany’s growth.

“We need to move be­yond the car as be­ing the main ur­ban trans­porta­tion mech­a­nism. I be­lieve a revo­lu­tion is com­ing,” he said. “We re­ally want Uber to be the one-stop shop for mo­bil­ity in any city.”

He made the re­marks while he was in Toronto for the first time in his role with Uber to an­nounce a new en­gi­neer­ing hub — the com­pany’s eighth out­side of the U.S. — and a $200-mil­lion ex­pan­sion of its self-driv­ing ve­hi­cle cen­tre in the city. Both are ex­pected to help the San Fran­cisco-based tech giant build and up­date its in­fra­struc­ture so it can con­tinue to scale and of­fer more fea­tures and prod­ucts to riders, driv­ers and cities.

The mo­bil­ity revo­lu­tion he said he is sens­ing will cen­tre around sin­gle-oc­cu­pancy elec­tric bikes and scoot­ers, which he called “mag­i­cal.”

In March, Uber ac­quired Jump Bikes, an elec­tric, dock­less bike­shar­ing ser­vice it pi­loted in San Fran­cisco, and in July it teamed up with Lime to bring elec­tric scoot­ers to its app in some mar­kets.

“I hope that they show up here,” Khos­row­shahi said. “It’s some­thing that be­longs in ev­ery city out there.”

He is even eye­ing some more se­ri­ous modes of trans­porta­tion.

“We want Uber to make bus ser­vice avail­able or train ser­vice as well,” he said.

But be­fore any of those lofty plans can hap­pen, he ad­mit­ted, “there’s a huge amount of work to be done.”

Uber in­tro­duced a part­ner­ship in 2017 with the town of In­n­is­fil, Ont., north of Toronto, that of­fers flat­fare rides be­tween se­lect des­ti­na­tions as an al­ter­na­tive to build­ing a tra­di­tional pub­lic tran­sit sys­tem. In­n­is­fil has es­ti­mated it will save the town more than $8 mil­lion a year, when com­pared with run­ning a tra­di­tional bus ser­vice.

How­ever, the com­pany is still fac­ing op­po­si­tion to its ser­vice and strug­gles with reg­u­la­tion in nu­mer­ous big cities around the globe, in­clud­ing Van­cou­ver.

There’s also the threat of Lyft, a ride-hail­ing com­peti­tor that has been mak­ing an ag­gres­sive push into sev­eral of Uber’s key mar­kets in­clud­ing Canada.

That’s partly why the com­pany is work­ing to­wards au­tonomous rides, but its pro­gram has faced crit­i­cism since March, when it paused test­ing of its au­tonomous cars in Toronto, San Fran­cisco, Phoenix and Pitts­burgh af­ter a woman was struck and killed by one of the com­pany’s self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles in Tempe, Ariz.

The com­pany de­cided to shut down the Ari­zona cen­tre re­spon­si­ble for the fa­tal test in May.

Around the same time, Uber said it was “dou­bling down” on its Toronto ef­forts. Prior to the fa­tal­ity, it had been test­ing self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles in the city, but the cars were not pick­ing up pas­sen­gers.

Khos­row­shahi and Raquel Ur­ta­sun, who is lead­ing Uber’s self-driv­ing car ef­forts in Canada, said the com­pany still doesn’t have a time­line for how soon au­tonomous Uber cars will be hit­ting the streets and be able to be hailed by con­sumers.

For now, they said they’re fo­cused on the ex­pan­sion of the Ad­vanced Tech­nolo­gies Group Re­search & Devel­op­ment Cen­tre in Toronto, which has fo­cused on self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles since it opened in May 2017, and the en­gi­neer­ing hub it will open in early 2019.

By the time both are com­pleted, Khos­row­shahi said the com­pany will have 500 em­ploy­ees in the city, up from about 200 it em­ploys there now.

“We like what we see. Toronto has a ter­rific tal­ent base,” he said. “Canada, for us, is an im­por­tant hub ... we think we can build a ter­rific en­gi­neer­ing tal­ent base here.”

Galit Rodan /The Cana­dian Press

Uber CEO Dara Khos­row­shahi poses for a portrait at one of the com­pany’s of­fices in Toronto on Thurs­day. The ride-shar­ing com­pany is plan­ning on open­ing a $200 mil­lion en­gi­neer­ing hub in Toronto.

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