Uber got a bit more than it bargained for when it bought up Otto with the hopes of expanding into trucking, but the company is still working in that direction, according to Uber Freight product lead Eric Berdinis. The former Moto and Otto employee spoke with a reporter about how the company is approaching trucking, and while he did touch on the autonomous side of things, he had a lot to say about Uber Freight, an Uber service that helps to connect truckers with the people and companies who need goods transported.
The service essentially exists to ease pain points for both truckers and shippers, such as payment terms. According to Berdinis, the direction that Uber Frieght is moving in right now is expansion. The service is seeking more clients, on both the trucker and the distributor side of things. Unlike with traditional drivers, Uber is not creating an economy, but rather butting into one. Whereas normal citizens who may not have wanted to sign up with a taxi company signed up for Uber en masse because of the freedom provided, becoming a trucker is not something that's done on a whim, and likely not something that somebody will want to do simply because Uber is offering a service to make truckers' lives a bit easier. That means that gaining attention and hunting for new clients is crucial to an operation like Uber Freight, and recent efforts have reflected that value. Expansion efforts have mirrored the early days of the service; before apps for Uber Freight hit iOS and Android, the team had to manually contact shippers to get a contract, then seek out truckers to fulfill that contract. Expansion has also been regionally focused, seeking out areas where the company could have one load dropped off, and immediately pick up another. Texas is one example, with shipping through Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio accounting for about 10% of truck-based freight in America, earning the area the name "The Golden Triangle".
Berdinis was also asked about how recent troubles within Uber, including the Waymo lawsuit, have affected Uber Freight, to which he responded that the issues have essentially not touched his division due to its detachment from autonomous technology and the mainline Uber product. Uber Freight was also founded with strong leadership and independence from Uber at large, which insulated it from a good portion of the shock and aftereffects of CEO Travis Kalanick's departure. On the subject of Uber Freight's beginnings, he said that Curtis Chambers, the one behind UberEATS, was already researching whether Uber should get into trucking when Otto was purchased, and that solidified his decision to create Uber Freight. As things stand now, Berdinis sees Uber Freight being a long-term facet of the company, and does not see the concept of self-driving trucks taking off for quite some time.