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Statement A battle for the future of transportation is being waged outside our offices and homes. Uber and a growing collection of well-funded start-ups, such as the ride-sharing service Lyft, are trying to make getting a taxi as easy as booking a reservation on Open Table or checking a price on Amazon–just another thing you do with your smart phone. These companies want to make owning a car completely unnecessary. “Being out in front of the taxi industry, putting a bull’s- eye on our back, has not been easy,” says Travis Kala nick, the 37-year-old chief executive of Uber. “The taxi industry has been ripe for disruption for decades. But only technology has allowed it to really kick in.” Only a few years ago, Uber introduced the idea of allowing passengers to book the nearest town car by smart phone and then track the vehicle on a map as it approaches their location. After the ride, the service automatically compensates the driver from the customer’s preloaded credit card—no awkward tipping required. It’s a simple experience and a much more pleasant way to get a ride than stepping onto a busy street and waving at oncoming traffic. Uber has raised $307 million from a group of backers that include Google Ventures, Google’s investment arm, and Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. It operates in 270 cities around the world and was on track to book more than $1 billion annually in rides in 2013, according to financial information that leaked to the gossip website Valleywag last November. In February alone, Uber expanded to Dubai, Honolulu; Lyon; Manila; Milwaukee; Pittsburgh; Tucson, Arizona; and Durban, South Africa. In the process, Uber has managed to become one of the most loved and hated start-ups of the smart phone age. Its customers rave about the reliability and speed of the service even as they bitterly complain about so-called surge pricing, the elevated rates Uber charges during hours of high demand. Uber has also been blocked from operating in several markets by regulators out to protect the interests of consumers or entrenched incumbents, depending on whom you ask. After customers complained about the ban in Austin, Texas, the Austin City Council adopted a regulatory structure for ridesharing, enabling Uber to operate in the city. In Boston and Chicago, taxi operators have sued their cities for allowing unregulated companies to devalue million-dollar operating permits. Things grew especially heated recently in Paris when incensed taxi drivers shut down highway exits to the main airports and gridlocked city traffic.

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