MR. IGNATIUS: I’m David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post. I am pleased to welcome to Washington Post Live today Dara Khosrowshahi, who is the chief executive officer of Uber. We are going to have another in our series of conversations about the path forward. This is one is going to focus on the future of work, and we are going to talk in particular about the gig economy, what has happened to it and where it is heading. Uber obviously is one of the most important symbolic companies in that sector.

Dara, welcome to our Washington Post Live setting. I want to ask you to begin with just giving us a snapshot of what the pandemic has meant for Uber, the number of drivers you had working in March, the kind of revenues that you were seeing, how many drivers are out now, whether you expect those drivers to come back, and if so, when. Just open us up with a view of what this has meant for your business.

MR. KHOSROWSHAHI: Sure, absolutely, and I'm happy to be here. Thank you for having me, David. It really is a pleasure.

So, the pandemic has been very tough on Uber, as it has been for many companies who operate in the real world. You know, we are a technology company with our feet firmly planted in the real world, and as a result of the pandemic we saw a very, very significant drop in ridership as everything locked down. So initially we saw an 85 percent drop in volumes as people stayed home, and rightly so, and that volume has slowly but surely increased, although it is nowhere near where normal is.

And for us, after the initial shock to the system, the most important factor for us was making sure that our service--because it is a daily use case service--when used would be safe. So, providing drivers with some safety net, to the extent that if they were feeling sick and needed to stay home make sure that they had some earnings to count on. We committed $50 million to health and safety supplies. We shipped nearly 30 million masks and face covers to drivers. And then we really shifted to making sure that are there for the health care workers, providing them with free food, free rides, and then supporting local restaurants by waiving delivery fees for those restaurants, about 100,000 independent restaurants that we work with.

Once we made sure that the service was safe, we then turned to rebuilding. We see our rides volume, on a global basis, at being around half of what they were pre-pandemic, and again they started being down 85 percent. So, cities are opening up at different rates.

What is interesting is we've seen our delivery business, Uber Eats, accelerate very, very significantly. We have had five years of adoptions essentially accelerate into six months. That business has been a real lifeline for many restaurants and many of our drivers, who have switched over from essentially carrying riders to carrying food. And that business has been a huge blessing. When I took over that business three years ago it was a couple of billion in bookings and now its run rate is over $35 billion in bookings. So that business has really worked out well.

But I'm looking forward to getting 2020 behind me, David.

MR. IGNATIUS: I think we're all feeling that way.

I would just ask you to drill down a little bit in terms of the driver numbers. I'm curious whether drivers who have converted from the passenger-carrying Uber to Uber Eats, all those ancillary services, make about the same amount of money that they did before, whatever percentage of their time they were devoting. And second, I'm curious whether you think the Uber Eats and other delivery type businesses will now be a significant part of your company going forward. In other words, are we, as a country, as an economy, going to shift more toward that kind of delivery rather than going to places to pick things up ourselves?

MR. KHOSROWSHAHI: So, in general, pre-pandemic, you could make more money working on the Uber Ride system, typically, on average, than being a courier for Eats. It's easier to be a courier for Eats. You can have an older care. You can ride a bike, for example, even bikes can carry food. So usually drivers, mainline drivers made more. That reversed itself during the pandemic, and actually there is an enormous demand for couriers, to this day, and couriers are making much more money now than they were previously, just because of the demand for the service.

As we're seeing demand come back for rides, that is reversing again, and it's my expectation that, on average, driving people is a little harder than driving food, that is reflected in the economics, and a driver driving for Uber Rides can make more.

I absolutely do think our Eats business is now much larger than our Rides business. I think, going forward, our Eats and Rides business are going to be about 50-50 in terms of size. There has been a permanent acceleration as it relates to all things delivered to your home. What we see, the pattern is that consumers, when they try it, and they have been forced to try it, to some extent, because of these exogenous circumstances, they like it. It's a good product. Push a button, you get high-quality food, usually within 30 minutes. The choice that you have--because basically every single restaurant out there is signing up for Uber Eats; it's a huge lifeline to the business--the choice is better than it ever has been. The convenience is very high, it's safe, and the food is really good.

So we do think that some of this acceleration is going to be permanent, and we are going to be the company that essentially anywhere you want to go in your city, and anything you want delivered to your home--it's starting with food but it's going to go into grocery, it will go into pharmacy, it will go into any other categories--anything you want delivered to your home, we are going to be there for you.

MR. IGNATIUS: That's fascinating. One of the things we keep hearing in our conversations about the path forward is that the post-pandemic economy is going to be different, that some of the things we have learned to do differently in these months will stay with us, creating new businesses, hurting some old businesses.

Before we leave the subject of the pandemic and what it's meant for Uber, I just want to ask you a question I know many of our viewers would want to ask. Tell us a little bit about how you make sure that you can protect the safety both of your drivers and their passengers, every day, everywhere you are. How do you do that?

MR. KHOSROWSHAHI: So, the safety of our drivers and the safety of our passengers is interlinked. You have to make big investments in both. We, early on, actually invested in technology that really was focused on the verification of the driver, making sure that the right driver, who has been licensed, who has been background-checked, is driving the actual car. And it was basically selfie technology. You take a selfie of yourself, we make sure that it's not a picture of a picture, for example--you know, drivers have tried every single trick in the books--to make sure that if Dara is supposed to be the driver that is picking you up, Dara is the actual driver.

We then pivoted and are using that same safety technology that originally was about identity--masks. So now we have drivers go through and take a selfie, essentially, to make sure that drivers are wearing a mask. And again, you have people game the system. They try taking a picture like this, or they put a piece of paper in front of them, et cetera, in front of their mouths to pretend that it's a mask. Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms learned their tricks of the trade, so now essentially our drivers, through selfie technology, we guarantee that they wear a mask.

And as it relates to riders, we ask the driver--first of all, we have a checklist, you know, wear a mask, make sure you're safe, make sure you don't have a temperature, usually open up the windows of the car and hopefully that will be a reasonable ask, as the weather gets colder. If we see that a rider--and we get that feedback from the driver--isn't wearing a mask, we will then use that selfie technology for the rider on the next ride and the ride after that, to make sure that they wear a mask.

So, it's like wear a mask. Pretty simple. It makes life so much safer. And we're using technology now to make sure that we are the safest platform out there, in terms of transportation.

MR. IGNATIUS: And let me ask whether you've been able to gather any data that would give any idea to your company, to the public, about the incidence of infection among drivers. Does it mirror that of the country as a whole? These drivers are exposed to all sorts of people, obviously. What do you know about the incidence of infection?

MR. KHOSROWSHAHI: We don't know much more in that we don't test drivers, so we are constantly sharing, let's say, information to the extent that the National Health Service asks us for information. Beyond that we are very wary of privacy concerns. There is no reason, or we see no evidence whatsoever, to suggest that our service is in any way, shape, or form unsafe.

MR. IGNATIUS: Let me shift, Dara, to the broader question of the gig economy. As I said at the outset, Uber is the kind of symbolic company, one of them. You wrote a really interesting op-ed piece in The New York Times back in August in which you tried to address a question that's been put forcefully to Uber, in California but all over the country, which is, why shouldn't you treat your drivers as employees? Why are they contractors? Why not make them employees?

And you gave a very detailed answer in that op-ed and in many things subsequently. Get us started on that conversation by addressing the question you posed--why shouldn't they be employees of Uber as opposed to contractors?

MR. KHOSROWSHAHI: Sure. Absolutely. So I think generally stepping back, we come from a perspective that the employment system that we have in place now is outdated and it's unfair, and that there is a class of employee, who call it as the full-time employee, who is a first-class citizen, and then there are part-time employees or gig workers who you can call them second-class because they don't have access to benefits, et cetera.

And there is one line of thinking that is, as well, let's make them full-time employees so that they get access to the benefits. But we think that's missing the point. The vast majority of drivers or couriers who actually engage with our system do so because of the flexibility of the system. We had a survey in California where 88 percent of drivers who drive on our system in California do so because they want flexibility as part of their needs. They may have another job. They may have a sick parent, or they may have childcare duties, et cetera. They turn to us because of the flexibility.

If you turn a gig worker into a full-time worker, they will have to give up very significant flexibility. You know, a Starbucks doesn't allow a barista to come in any time they want in the morning, skip the noon rush hour because they want to take a lunch break, and then leave and go work at a Peet's in the afternoon, because Peet's is closer to home. Right?

We effectively do that. You can come onto the platform any time you want. You can leave any time you want. You can make your own hours. You can take a vacation without asking your boss, et cetera. That kind of flexibility does not and cannot exist with full-time work. Sure, it's legal, but it's just not practical. No company in the universe does it, because once you employ someone you essentially have to become responsible for their productivity. So, no company in the world offers the kind of flexibility that our gig work does.

Now if the vast majority of drivers want gig work and want the flexibility of gig work, our question is, well, why not put benefits and associate benefits with gig work? Why take away the flexibility when you can actually introduce benefits? So our proposal is essentially what we call an independent contractor plus model, gig worker plus model, that has all the companies that employ gig work and have drivers or couriers accessing their system to earn, to essentially contribute to a benefits pool and have that benefits pool be used in any way that a courier or driver wants to, whether it's for health care or it's for time off or it's for sick leave, et cetera, plus some additional protections like accident coverage, et cetera.

So as opposed to kind of taking way this wonderful new technology that we built and this new way of working, and taking it away, we're saying why don't we add to it? Why don't add reform to it? Let's actually connect the benefits and flexibility together. We think that's a better answer.

MR. IGNATIUS: One question I have about this approach, and you've described it as a third way, between full employment and not being employed at all, this third way, you would be required, as a gig economy company, to contribute to this benefits fund. And I wondered why not make those benefits health care benefits, which your drivers are going to have, as opposed to money that they can use as paid time off, they can use however?

One thing that we know about people is that if you give them a choice, sometimes they make choices that aren't really the best thing for their health. Why not make it just a standard benefit package like you'd get at a full-time employer?

MR. KHOSROWSHAHI: I think that's a great question, David, and you're right that sometimes people make the wrong choice. But we want to meet drivers at where their needs are, not to make some kind of a political statement one way or the other. And the fact is that about three-quarters of our drivers have access to health care. They may have a spouse who has a full-time job, or they may already have health care through the Affordable Care Act, et cetera. They already have access to health care.

So, if we go out and essentially offer health care as part of the benefits, we would not be helping out three-quarters of our drivers and benefitting a quarter of our drivers, and we don't think that's the best way forward.

You know, the way we model our systems is that every single driver has needs and stories that differ. That's what makes our system so great. That's what makes the flexibility of our system so important. So just as the nature of the work itself is maximally flexible, we want to create a benefits package which is maximally flexible and can essentially be used in the way that each individual driver or courier want to use it.

MR. IGNATIUS: So, one of the things that I think we've all been feeling as we've lived through the pandemic is the difficulty of people just having to fend for themselves, states having to fend for themselves. We look at countries overseas that have better, stronger social safety nets, sometimes with envy. Gee, it would be nice to have more of that.

As you think about how we're going to build forward--you know, perhaps with a new administration coming in in January--but in any event, building the economy back, how do you see, in a broader sense, providing a kind of basic foundation for people, for their health, for some level of income security? Do you see an economy that begins to look somewhat different and has more of those protections for people?

MR. KHOSROWSHAHI: You're asking me to get out of CEO-ville, David. That makes me intensely uncomfortable.

But I do think, for me, personally, connecting health care to your employment, from a structural standpoint and from a societal standpoint, I personally don't think makes a lot of sense. I think a lot of people know companies attaching health care to employment actually came out of World War II when there were caps on federal wages. So, it was a way for companies to get around these wage caps by providing these additional benefits. And it has resulted in a very, very embedded, byzantine system.

And it's my personal belief that actually the system that you see in Europe and many other countries, where health care is provided, a base level of health care is provided by the government, allows you to have a serious scale and improve your pricing outcomes, while, at the same time, providing freedom for people to have additional health care or private health care as well. It's not one or the other. And I think that kind of a system actually levels the playing field, which I think would be very, very good for society, and actually can create a more entrepreneurial society, right? If you work for an Uber full-time, or you work for a Google, or a Facebook, one of the real prospects that you face when it's time to--when you want to go out and strike out on your own and start a new business, is the prospect of losing your health care, and that's really serious, especially if you have a family.

So, I actually think that it would be a more fair environment. It would lessen some of the societal strain that we see as a result of these shocks to the system, and actually it would create a more entrepreneurial society. So that's at least one person's viewpoint.

MR. IGNATIUS: So, thank you for stepping out of CEO mode. That's an extraordinarily clear and interesting way to think about the social safety net and preserving the entrepreneurial dynamism that obviously is crucial for our country and our economy.

I want to ask you about Uber as an AI, artificial intelligence, company. You know an awful lot about where people travel back and forth. You've got presumably all that stored in servers. Tell us a little bit about how you plan to use that immense cache of data as we move toward a future that looks more like driverless cars and trucks. How is Uber positioned to move into that world, and, let's be honest, make money at it?

MR. KHOSROWSHAHI: So, I think that, first of all, we are incredibly careful about making sure that, first of all, our data is safe. We have identity data, we've got payment data, but we also have real-time location data, and the real-time location data is something that we protect and invest enormous amounts of money to protect, and really hold, you know, very dearly, to make sure that it is used only when necessary and otherwise not used.

The most significant area where we use AI is for simple things, to really think about, well, how do we match up a rider with a particular driver? If you live at a particular place and you make a hail, there may be 30 drivers who we can match you up with. Our AI algorithms are constantly on a real-time basis, essentially understanding what is the perfect driver to match up with your request. And then how do we route them? What's the estimate as far as ETA, et cetera? It is a lot of boring stuff, actually, that wouldn't occur to you. But if we get your ETA, if it's--you know, we estimate it at four minutes and it's actually seven or eight minutes, that's a very, very negative experience that we don't want to be associated with.

We then, furthermore, look to personalize your experience. So when you come to Uber Eats, based on your prior eating data, for example, what are the lists of restaurants, because sometimes choice, like you said, can overwhelm, and when we have 1,000 restaurants available in a particular city we want to make sure that we show you the appropriate 20, 30, 40 restaurants. And that takes huge compute power in terms of the loads on various restaurants, where our couriers are, what the expectation is as far as your delivery time, and making sure that we use your past behavior to show you the perfect set and choice of restaurants.

It is that kind of work right now in the background where our AI is maximized, and really the way I think about using this data is as long as we use the data to make the experience of the rider or the eater or the driver and the courier better, then that's use of data for good. What we do not want to do is essentially have that data take a toll out of that experience or try to maximize value near-term, because long-term we find that can be quite value destructive.

MR. IGNATIUS: Let me ask you about another area of social policy, the future of our society, where Uber has particular leverage, and that is getting more toward a green fleet of cars and trucks, reducing harmful emissions. Tell us a little bit about how you think, as Uber CEO, you can push the company in that direction, and what broader knock-on effect it might have.

MR. KHOSROWSHAHI: So, we think that the future for us, for transportation, has to be shared. Cars are woefully underutilized. Car ownership is a really bad use of an asset. It should be shared, it should be electric, and eventually it will be autonomous as well. Robot drivers will be safer than, let's say, human drivers.

On the sustainable side, as a team we got together and said, we're running out of time, and we've got to make a move right now. So, we very recently made a pledge to be essentially green or all electric on a global basis by 2045, in developed countries by 2035, and called the U.S. and Europe where some of the sustainability efforts are more advanced. And in order to do so at these kinds of scale, we decided that you really have to make economics work.

So we are introducing Uber Green and expanding it across the country--it's available now in many U.S. cities--and essentially using that as a funding vehicle so that drivers on Uber who drive either hybrid or an electric vehicle actually get paid an extra $0.50 to $1.00 a trip, sometimes $1.50 per trip, and they can take those earnings essentially as incentive to electrify their vehicle. Because right now a gasoline-powered vehicle is just cheaper in terms of upfront costs to buying that vehicle and then operating that vehicle for its lifetime. Today it's more expensive to go hybrid or electric.

So, we have created, through our product, essentially an incentive for our driver base to move to hybrid and electric. It will add up to about $800 million in assistance that we provide for our drivers, to move from gas-powered to electric vehicles that we are going to provide really over the next ten years.

So sometimes you need a jolt in order to make the economic flywheel work. Right now, the sustainability flywheel doesn't work yet, and we decided we've got to essentially make it work, which is a big part of our sustainability commitment.

So, what I would tell folks who are watching this, if you see Uber Green, take Uber Green. It will help provide for a more sustainable environment going forward.

MR. IGNATIUS: Let me ask another question that's on, I suspect, every viewer's mind, and that's the election that's 30 days away. I'm not going to ask you a political question. I'm going to ask you about how Uber is going to help get voters safely to the polls on Election Day in this pandemic environment, where we may be seeing resurgence in some areas. I'm sure you've thought about that. Talk us through how Uber is going to try to help us as citizens and voters.

MR. KHOSROWSHAHI: Yeah. Our agenda is to get out the vote. However you want to vote is a personal choice, but we think more citizens engaging in the voting process is a big, big benefit. So, you will see a pretty significant "Get Out the Vote" campaign coming from Uber. We are essentially making sure that polling stations are identified. We will be providing thousands and thousands of free rides to polling stations. We are engaging with our own drivers to make sure that they can take a break and actually go out there and vote as well.

So, it's a very important partnership. We have a partnership with a number of players, including Power the Polls, to essentially help recruit poll workers, make sure that polling locations are identified, and then, in many cases, providing free rides to that poll for the citizenship, and especially for those who need it.

MR. IGNATIUS: So, Dara, this has been a really rich conversation. We've come to the end of our 30 minutes. What we've hoped to do in these discussions is think with leaders in American business like you about what's ahead, about things that are going to be changed because of the pandemic, new opportunities that have opened, and you've been really interesting and provocative in your comments.

So, I thank you again for joining us for the conversation today and I hope we'll continue to talk about these things in the months ahead. So, thanks to Dara.

We have another day of I hope interesting sessions set for you tomorrow. Please join Bob Costa at 9:30, who will be interviewing Senator Ted Cruz, and if you can, join me at 3:00 tomorrow afternoon when I'll be interviewing Jim Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, who will be talking with me about election security.

So, thanks again for joining us here today at Washington Post Live. See you tomorrow.

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