Chicago has a long history as a center for transportation and logistics, and Uber is expanding its footprint into the freight industry. So Uber’s CEO says it was a natural move to locate the Uber Freight main headquarters in Chicago, with brand new offices at the Old Main Post Office.
The company says it will create 2,000 jobs and up to $200 million per year in economic investment; it will lease a massive space the size of 12 football fields at the Old Main Post Office. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other elected officials were on hand for the announcement Monday. Company officials say there was no public money offered to lure the headquarters to Chicago.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has been at the helm since 2017 when the company’s controversial founder Travis Kalanick was pushed out. During an exclusive interview with WTTW News, Khosrowshahi said his decision was easy for a number of reasons, including an affordable quality of life and highly ranked colleges and universities.
“The institutions here are extraordinary, so the supply of tech talent is here and is going to continue to be here for the next 10 years,” he said. “And for us, what was interesting – the expertise in the logistics and transportation sectors all came together to make Chicago an obvious choice for us.”
The way Uber Freight works isn’t so different from the ride-hailing service we’re already familiar with. If a company needs to ship its goods from A to B, it uses the platform to connect with freighters to take it there.
Uber has been no stranger to controversy in Chicago. There have been various ordinances dealing with passenger safety and driver requirements, including those requiring stiffer background checks.
Khosrowshahi says the company has gotten the message.
“We abide by the local ordinance, but our intention is to be ahead of it,” he said. “You gotta do background checks, but we have now turned to a new technology to continuously run background checks so that we don’t miss something, if something happens seven months into a background check. We have features where you can track your loved one. So, we have to make sure we’re having constructive dialogue with government as to what’s appropriate, but we as a company want to be way ahead of that.”
Congestion is the other common complaint about the ride-sharing industry. Some studies cite it as the reason for increased congestion in cities, but Khosrowshahi insists that it’s just one of many factors.
He does say he wants to reimagine the company as one that offers a platform to get around by any method – CTA, scooter, bike, even taxi – and promotes the Uber Pool app in which riders carpool with strangers. He even went so far as to insist that his company supports an idea that Lightfoot has floated to help solve the budget gap: a congestion tax.
“Looking at all of the cars on the road, including us, and Amazon trucks, and UPS delivery trucks, and passenger vehicles and taxis – looking at traffic patterns and looking at a congestion tax that applies to everyone in an equal way, we think does make sense,” he said. “To the extent that you really need to be downtown at a time and need to pay the taxes, you will. But then, it will spread out other people who don’t need to be downtown during the peak times.”
Uber operates a bike-share program called Jump and is suing the city over a deal former Mayor Rahm Emanuel struck with Lyft to be the program’s exclusive operator. He says that Uber never got a fair chance to compete for that business.
“It was too quiet, it was too quick,” he said. “We don’t think monopolies serve the people of the city. This is an issue we had with the last administration, and we’d been upfront about it going to the courts. We want to have a constructive dialogue with the city, and with scooters, that process has been done with the light of day.”
Uber is one of 10 companies participating in the scooter pilot program. Khosrowshahi is hoping it goes well enough for the city to make it permanent.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz