Policy Lessons from Uber and Building more Equitable Products and Services
I recently launched a new podcast where I interview those that sit at the intersection of business, technology, and policy to understand how the public and private sector can come together to build a better world for us all. "Building the Bridge" started as a series of mini conversations I was already having with mentors, industry leaders, and professors around the role policy plays in innovation - from responsible automation to artificial intelligence in hiring - there is so much opportunity, and I wanted to shed a light on doing work in this area.
I kicked off the first episode with Malcom Glenn who is the Director of Public Affairs at Better. He's held product, policy, and communications roles at companies like Uber and Google, and has dedicated his career to equity in technology, and I was really excited about our conversation.
Rather than recap the whole episode, I wanted to spotlight a story Malcom shared around getting more wheelchair-accessible vehicles on the road from his time at Uber. This was a great example of product innovation, policy implementation, and aligning around what the best metrics of success should be, with a variety of stakeholders involved - from legislators to product managers.
Uber was constantly working to determine how they could get more wheelchair-accessible vehicles on the road, and some of the policy proposals suggested by lawmakers focused specifically around fleet number requirements. For example, there needs to be X amount of these vehicles in Y city. While well intentioned, the outcome was focused on an antiquated model of how fleet systems work, largely from the taxi era.
With the rise of ride-sharing platforms, efficiencies in these models evolved so that Uber could lead the policy conversation while taking into consideration these types of success metrics lawmakers were used to. Technology had the ability to better connect riders and drivers, and so Uber asked lawmakers not to judge their efforts based on the number of vehicles on the road, but instead on the wait times, and the reliability of getting a car to fulfill that promise of efficient accessibility.
From there, Uber established fleet partnerships to hit those reliability and wait time goals, and now, where there is a legislative requirement around vehicle accessibility, it is largely based on this partnership. Along with the Disability Advocacy Community, Uber was able to help lawmakers understand what outcomes mattered most to them - you can have as many vehicles as you want on the road, but if they cannot be reliable and efficient, then they fail in doing the job they were hired to do.
I thought this story was a great example of building products with the public sector, and leveraging advocacy groups - who really have the best feedback and vision for how technology could improve their world - to make something like Uber truly accessible for more people.
"In so many ways, we took our product guidance not from lawmakers, not necessarily even from ourselves, but instead from advocates. Because at the end of the day, the advocates are the ones that best understand what policies are actually going to make the most sense for their communities." - Malcom Glenn
Listen to the podcast on Spotify:
Listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts: