Entrepreneurs

Did this retired Atlanta couple invent Uber before Uber?

Co-founder of Uber Travis Kalanick attends an Oscar party on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.
Mike Coppola | Getty Images
Co-founder of Uber Travis Kalanick attends an Oscar party on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.

Back in 2007, Bob and Anne Carr had an idea for a driving service that would be coordinated only by text message, according to an article on the couple in Bloomberg Businessweek. They even filed for a patent.

The idea may sound familiar — and the Carrs had it more than a year before Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp launched Uber in March of 2009.

Bob Carr, now 67, jokes it's a good thing for Uber that the patent didn't work out.

Not that the Carrs are really claiming to have invented Uber before Uber – their patent application was for a service that utilized volunteer drivers. They wanted to use the method to coordinate rides for the elderly and people with disabilities, they tell Bloomberg Businessweek. "Micro-transportation versus mass transportation," says Bob.

And in fact, it was the advent of Uber that ultimately brought the Carrs' dream to fruition.

Early on, volunteers' limited availability stymied the Carrs' original plan. But when Anne learned about Uber in 2014 and told her husband, Bob "jumped on it like you've never seen," Anne tells CNBC. He even signed up to be an Uber driver himself.

That year, the Carrs revived their project and founded nonprofit, Common Courtesy, Inc. They used Uber to book rides to things like doctor appointments or for trips to the grocery store for the elderly, many of whom didn't have smart phones.

"I had five different mobile phones with five different Uber accounts," Carr tells Bloomberg Businessweek.

Anne Carr assisting early rider and veteran Sydney Berry in 2015.
Anne Carr Photography
Anne Carr assisting early rider and veteran Sydney Berry in 2015.

Eventually, after months of "re-imagining how my transport ideas, based on Uber, might work," Carr took his idea to Uber, he tells Georgia Health News.

The company sent five engineers from its San Francisco headquarters to see what the Carrs were doing. Anne even made a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies to welcome them, she tells CNBC.

The engineers asked how they could make Uber more effective for Common Courtesy. Along with other input, the Carrs wanted to be able to use one phone to book and keep track of all the rides they were arranging.

Bob Carr assisting Ruth Troutman in 2008.
Anne Carr Photography
Bob Carr assisting Ruth Troutman in 2008.

Uber later asked Common Courtesy to beta test Uber Central, a dashboard that enables businesses "to request, manage and pay for multiple Uber rides on behalf of their customers," according to Uber's website. It launched wide in April.

Common Courtesy also added a partnership with Lyft.

Today the company schedules about 2400 trips per month in the Atlanta area, says Bob, and that number increases about 20 percent a month. It also has 30 "affiliated 'chapters'" around the country according to Businessweek. They are helping to bring ride-sharing to a whole new market — one that really needs it.

Uber as a company may have some serious problems, but the Carrs are grateful for the service.

"We could not be doing what we are doing today without the ride share," Anne tells CNBC. "We are indebted to Uber and Lyft and have a great close relationship with both of them."

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