US taxi aggregator Uber has for the first time set up a global public policy advisory board to address regulatory concerns the company faces in many parts of the world. The Travis Kalanick-led company, valued at $62 billion with operations in 70 countries, has appointed an Indian - Adil Zainulbhai, chairman of the Quality Council of India and former chairman of McKinsey India - as part of the eight-member board, an Uber spokesperson confirmed. The development comes at a time when Uber is under scrutiny across many Indian states over its surge-pricing model, that lets it raise tariff in sync with demand for its cab service.
The board, which comprises a curious mix of global leaders from government, business, academics and think tanks, had its first meeting in the US earlier this week, it is learnt.
Besides the India representative, the members of this new board are Melody Barnes, vice provost for global student leadership initiatives at New York University and former director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House; Roberto Danino, former Prime Minister of Peru; Allan Fels, professor at Melbourne, Monash and Oxford Universities and former chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission; Neelie Kroes, Netherlands special envoy for start-ups and former vice-president of the European Commission; Ray LaHood, former US secretary of transportation; Gesner Oliveira, former president of the Brazilian Administrative Council for Economic Defence; and Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, founder and chief executive of Alf Khair.
Last year, Uber had set up a safety advisory board, but only for the US market. The latest global advisory board is expected to guide seven-year-old Uber as it increasingly finds itself in the midst of regulatory challenges.
According to David Plouffe, chief advisor and member of the board of directors, Uber, "ride-sharing apps are not just about pushing a button and getting a ride - they're also about pushing a button and getting work. In France, 20 per cent of drivers using Uber were unemployed beforehand. In Egypt, that number is 40 per cent. In Mexico City, 50 per cent.''
Plouffe, who was advisor to US President Barack Obama during his two presidential campaigns, said that just a few years ago, only California had a regulatory framework for ride-sharing in the US. "Today, more than 70 jurisdictions in the US do, and many other places around the globe are following suit, including in Australia, India, the Philippines and Mexico."
In India, the latest challenge for Uber has been in Delhi as the state government wants it to switch off surge pricing to comply with the guidelines. Defying the diktat, Uber has continued to offer rides with surge pricing. Karnataka is among the other states fighting Uber's surge pricing. It has, however, got a licence in Kolkata and Indore and has applied for one in Karnataka. Company executives say Uber would comply when an appropriate legal framework is brought in.
Controversy is not new for Uber. Earlier, it had to go off the roads for a while following a rape incident in an Uber taxi in Delhi. In other parts of the world too, it has been clashing with policymakers frequently including in London, Paris, Seoul, Berlin, Tokyo, Pennsylvania, and Virginia for different regulatory reasons.
In London, for instance, Uber drivers were asked to wait for at least five minutes before taking a passenger on a ride so that he or she could get other options if they wanted. The rule was changed after organised protests by Uber users. In Seoul, the company has withdrawn UberX following government directions, while retaining its high-end UberBlack limousine service.