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Uber turns 5, reaches 1 million drivers and 300 cities worldwide. Now what?

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick speaks to employees and drivers to mark the company’s five-year anniversary, in San Francisco,  June 3, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
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Uber, which started with four people around a desk and two cars on the streets of San Francisco, is now a global success, serving 300 cities across six continents and recently reaching the one-millionth-driver mark.

And, it’s only been five years.

But for Uber, which allows us to hail a ride through our smartphone, those five years were plenty to revolutionize the way we think about transportation. And its chief executive officer said there are no plans for stopping.

For starters, Uber’s vision is to set up shop in “thousands more cities,” add another million drivers this year, and grow the company’s carpooling service, CEO Travis Kalanick said in an anniversary speech to employees Wednesday.

In his address, Kalanick talked about the state of the nation’s transportation system, and Uber’s role in filling the gaps left by public transit. He urged cities to adopt the innovative service. He said:

Today, the transportation status quo is broken, and it’s getting worse. We can choose to do nothing, and wake up to a future where our cities are clogged with cars, choked by congestion, and still debating whether to build that new railroad or subway stop.
Or we can embrace a future where companies like Uber work with businesses, governments, and citizens to build a transportation system for the 21st century.

The app-based service, he said, complements the available public transit options, making it easier for commuters to get around:

Not everyone can live by a bus stop or a subway station. And today, there are still too many places that mass transit doesn’t serve; places where it’s hard to get a cab – the poorest neighborhoods and suburban communities where millions of people don’t have access to reliable, affordable transportation. It creates an unequal transportation ecosystem that makes people’s lives that much harder and more expensive to live.

Cities across the U.S. and the world are still reacting to the rapidly growing service that has changed the car-for-hire industry, igniting a war with the traditional taxi industry.  The company’s success, which so far has come with extraordinary resistance, is at stake and Kalanick on Wednesday more than urging action, appeared to be making a plea for support to cities. He said:

All we ask of these cities is that they allow their citizens to start serving their neighbors. Our belief is that if a driver meets all the criteria for safety, for insurance, and for quality, and she wants to make a living driving people around, why can’t she?
All we ask of local officials is that they say yes to allowing people to serve their cities. All we ask is that they don’t deprive people of this service because of some outdated regulation – regulation that might have originally been designed to protect passengers or drivers, but decades later exists to preserve a century-old monopoly for a connected few.

[Cab companies unite against Uber and other ride-share services]

In the Washington area, it wasn’t long ago that Uber was criticized for setting up shop and operating without regard to existing laws and regulations. Just a year ago, the company received a cease and desist order in Virginia and downtown D.C. traffic was gridlocked as taxi drivers protested the service. Just last month some D.C. taxi drivers filed a lawsuit challenging the District’s law that legalizes Uber and similar services.

But the company’s popularity among consumers has helped it win some major battles.  And Uber has continued to grow to have thousands of drivers in the DMV. It’s biggest victory was getting the District, Virginia and Maryland lawmakers to legalize its services. Now, even the region’s airports are considering opening up their ground transportation areas to Uber.

These welcome mats, Kalanick assures, will bring benefits ranging from reducing traffic congestion to reducing carbon pollution and spending less on expensive new public transportation. He added:

And a city with Uber will be a more prosperous city – a city where more people and small businesses have access to more affordable transportation than ever before; a city where there will be tens of thousands of new jobs created in a couple years.

Uber now has its sights set on expanding UberPOOL, which allows two people taking a similar route to take one car instead of two. This service is available only in selected cities, including San Francisco where about half of all rides are now UberPOOL, Kalanick said.  (Uber hasn’t set up a launch date in the Washington region).

An UberPOOL ride can be cheaper than taking UberX, the company’s low-cost service.  And, Kalanick said, it “has the potential to be as affordable as taking a subway, or a bus, or other means of transportation.”

And that’s what he says is the “real game-changer” and what Uber will be working toward in the future.

See the full speech: