Uber’s Travis Kalanick heckled on Stephen Colbert’s show, talks self-driving cars and amorous passengers anyway

In case there was any doubt: Uber is working on a self-driving car, and tech industry CEOs now appear on late-night TV shows like it’s no big deal.

As he said Thursday, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick “pushed a button, got a ride” and arrived at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York for an appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Kalanick’s guest spot came a night after Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s appearance on the new show, which made its debut this week.

Colbert, who said he has used Uber — which allows users to hail and pay for rides using their smartphones — asked Kalanick a couple of tough questions right off the bat, seeking his response to charges that Uber treats its drivers unfairly, and that it’s “destroying the cab industry.”

Kalanick was obviously ready for this, repeating the company line about its drivers: Working for Uber gives them flexibility. Unlike taxi drivers, who Kalanick said have to “pay $40,000 a year to rent a vehicle,” the drivers can use their own cars. And “if you want to pick up your kids from school, turn it off.”

He did not address Colbert’s question about Uber’s effect on the taxi industry. Cab drivers around the world have complained, sued, caused major traffic disruptions during protests — some of which have been violent.

What we didn’t see on TV: BuzzFeed News reporter Rachel Zarrell tweeted Thursday that there was some heckling from the audience during the taping of the show — perhaps from supporters of the taxi industry?

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But back to the regularly scheduled programming:

Colbert also asked Kalanick about surge pricing. Last year, people trying to flee Sydney’s business district during a hostage crisis were subjected to prices that were reportedly four times Uber’s normal rate for rides.

“Is that how we should be treating each other?” Colbert asked.

Kalanick talked supply and demand, but added that “if it’s an emergency, we basically turn [surge pricing] off.”

There were a couple of light-hearted moments: When the CEO of the uber-valued San Francisco startup revealed that he sometimes drives for Uber, Colbert was curious about couples who may get a little frisky in the back seat.

“You ever have to sponge it out?” he asked.

Kalanick played right along: “I just keep my eyes on the road.”

And yes, the company is working on self-driving cars.

Kalanick said Google, Tesla and Apple are “doing the driverless thing. This is going to be the world. The question then for a tech company, is ‘do you want to be part of the future, or do you want to resist the future?’ ”

 

Photo: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick arrives at the 2014 TIME 100 Gala in New York on April 29, 2014. (Evan Agostini/Invision/Associated Press)

 

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