As Transportation Network Companies increased their presence in recent years, the relationship between Uber and airports has not always been great. But Uber, under the leadership of CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, has established a division that focuses specifically on enhancing relations and working together with airports to create products and offer services that will provide better experiences for passengers and drivers. AXN writer Andrew Tellijohn spoke with the two executives about Uber’s plans.
Tellijohn: You made clear during a recent presentation at the Business of Airports Conference that Uber is looking to restart its relationships with airports. What does that look like?
Womack: The top line is, we as a company, are moving forward in a new direction. Really, it’s centered around improving quality across the board for both our riders and our drivers. This started last year with some investments we are making in products and services and just our approach to the business. That reflects the change in culture and tone that is happening across the business.
Candidly, we as a company probably have been sort of challenging to work with in the past. The bottom line is, we’re moving in a new direction. That includes establishing new relationships and a new tone about how we operate with airports as partners globally.
There are a couple things we are doing to really invest in our relationships with the business we have at airports. We’re building a dedicated team focused on airports. We’re really structuring our team and our company around the rider and driver and most importantly the partnership we have at airports.
We’re committed to elevating the partnerships and doing everything from providing regular data to having ongoing dialogues about shared objectives and really strategically planning for the future. That’s the high-level summary. We’ve been in business at airports for probably around two-and-a-half years now running our services where we’re building specific products. This is a key fundamental change for us.
Mitchell: One of my observations, coming in fairly recently, has been that while airports in some cases may not have been our biggest fan, part of what makes our job easier is that I think we have a lot of areas where we align really well with the objectives of many big airports, particularly around issues like congestion and efficient use of airport infrastructure and airport assets, helping drive improved customer and passenger experiences, and reducing environmental footprint. All these things are often objectives that airports have. And we have a lot of products and corporately are quite aligned with what airports are looking to do. In a lot of cases that message just needs to be better communicated.
Tellijohn: What kinds of products are you talking about at airports?
Womack: That’s important when talking about the specifics of a deeper partnership mean. It means we’re collaborating on shared goals, aligning around passenger experiences, reducing congestion and driving efficiencies, ultimately planning for the future together of what the experience looks like five-, 10-, 20-years from now.
From a product standpoint, I’d break that into two categories. First, I would say more broadly, it’s really providing multiple modes of transportation that let our customers choose how they want to get from one place to the other. So that means we have multiple product lines, modes of transportation. If you want to take a black car or a town car, if you want to take an UberX or an Uberpool, we want to meet our customers where they are and provide them with the mode of transportation that best fits their needs at the time. We’re working to bring those product lines to airports, and we want to work together with airports to make sure the selection experience, the pick-up experience, uniquely meets and exceeds customers’ expectations.
Then there’s the products we build behind the scenes, the services that help us operate the business at airports. We build very specific products to make our services function at airports. That can also be what products mean.
For example, an airport that runs a waiting lot, we have to build specific technology that dispatches those drivers from the waiting lot to the pick-up point efficiently and timely to keep the wait time down. So, that’s different from a traditional pick-up and drop-off experience that Uber might have within a city. We have a dedicated team that is building these services that are specific to the experience at airports.
Another example might be a technology called Re-Match. It’s a technology that was built specifically with the intent of reducing deadheading, which is where someone comes into the airport with a passenger to drop off and they leave empty heading back into the city.
Our goal is to build products and services that will optimize our drivers so they have passengers when they leave airports. A service like Re-Match helps in a couple ways. One, it makes sure there is no deadheading, which reduces the number of vehicles that come into an airport, so it reduces congestion. It also has environmental implications and reduces wait times for customers waiting to pick up a vehicle.
Tellijohn: What drove this change and how has it paid off yet?
Womack: We’ve been focused on airports. What’s changed is the tone across Uber of how we approach partnering with everything from cities to municipalities and airports, about how we have aligned around shared goals to deliver a better customer experience. That has been a change in tone that has happened across Uber.
We want to align on making the experience better across the board. It’s a top priority for us at the company to make sure the experience at airports, from a rider and driver standpoint, that we are partnering with airports to really make it better.
We’re really excited, for example, about our partnership with Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ). We launched a new agreement with them in May that represents some of our new shared goals around how we want to work together to build the best possible experience. How do we make pick-ups more convenient and less stressful? How do we deliver better wayfinding from the gate to the pick-up point? How do we make sure we are delivering affordable rides and offering a great experience to our customers, partnering with the airport, and really saying how do we elevate this experience from a rider standpoint, but also making sure we have our driver in mind?
The partnership at Toronto will be all of our partners us sitting around a table talking about how do we really elevate this experience.