Interview with Uber on the future of cities

Interview with Uber on the future of cities


James Kelly is head of cities at Uber and responsible for reimagining the future of urban mobility and how this will shape city living. As a speaker at TECH@Housing, we interviewed James on Uber’s latest innovations to reduce parking space and pollution, including “flying taxis” and how they are collaborating with the property sector.


  1. James, your role is head of cities at Uber – how are you shaping the future of urban living in the UK?


At Uber, we want to partner with the cities that we serve as we share many of the same goals and are committed to addressing the same challenges; reducing individual car ownership, expanding transportation access and tackling air pollution.


It is our goal to help people replace their car with their phone by offering a range of mobility options – whether it’s cars, bikes or public transport – all in the Uber app. This will have a really positive impact on the future of urban living as people require less parking space and produce less pollution as a result.


  1. You recently collaborated with Moda Living to offer tenants free Uber rides as part of their rent. What other opportunities do you see for innovative collaborations with the property sector?

There are so many fantastic initiatives in the transportation sector that I think can feed directly into the property sector.


As you highlighted with Moda Living, there is great potential to reduce the 20% of space in cities that we currently dedicate to parking by providing on-demand transport services, all in the Uber app. This will free up valuable space in our city centres for much better use.


  1. You are a data technologist by background. How have you harnessed vast volumes of customer data to improve their experience?

The key to improving user experiences is to understand the problem in detail from the customer perspective and then consider what data you have or can acquire than can be applied to the problem. At Uber, we are constantly looking at the user experience and trying to identify any areas where riders and drivers are having issues. Data is a key way of helping us solve these issues.


In San Francisco, the data science team realised how many people were travelling between the same locations at the same time and came up with the idea of asking users to share rides for a discount. This is went on to become UberPool, a key strategic focus for us as it can reduce traffic and toxic air in the cities we serve.


  1. Uber will be piloting “flying taxis” as early as 2021. What will be the benefits for customers and cities? What challenges do you need to tackle first to make this feasible?


Uber’s technology is already changing the way people move – whether it’s in a car, a shared UberPool trip or an electric bicycle. But we’ve realised that to create more efficient cities with less congestion, we need to look to the sky.


Our Uber Elevate programme is taking a collaborative approach. We’re currently working with leading aircraft manufacturers, government and city regulators and property developers in Dallas and Los Angeles. Together, we’re working towards a goal of flight demonstrations in 2020 and Elevate commercially available to riders in 2023.


  1. Finally, Uber is recognised as one of the most innovative and disruptive companies in the world. What is your approach to innovation? How do you generate and bring amazing ideas to life?

I am still relatively new at Uber but in the time I have been here I have been incredibly impressed by the dedication and passion of everyone involved. There is a real culture of innovation, everyone is encouraged to find solutions to problems and test them.


The different cities and countries that we operate in all have their unique local identities and challenges, and no single idea will apply equally everywhere. Successful innovation therefore needs to be locally responsive and delivered collaboratively with local stakeholders. Ultimately, ideas need to be piloted locally so we can determine what works and doesn’t in each area.


James Kelly is speaking on ‘Smart Cities and the future of urban living’ at TECH@Housing on 27 June at 10:15, as part of Housing 2019, Manchester Central. Book your free* visitor pass now!

*Visitor fee applies to commercial organisations, £150 per person per day plus VAT