For most people, Uber is all about requesting a ride and jumping in a car. But Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi is planning to change all that as the company switches its focus to embrace more modes of transportation — especially electric bicycles and scooters — in a bid to build what he calls an “urban mobility platform.”
Uber has already made moves toward this long-term goal, acquiring bikesharing startup Jump in April 2018. Jump offers electric bikes for hire in eight U.S. cities, among them San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Uber also recently partnered with Lime, which operates a sharing scheme using electric scooters as well as bikes.
But now the CEO appears set to push more heavily into the sector.
The reason for the change in tactics? Khosrowshahi says two-wheelers are better suited to inner-city travel than large cars.
Uber’s boss told the Financial Times in a recent interview that especially during rush hour, it’s “very inefficient for a one-ton hulk of metal to take one person 10 blocks.”
He admitted that pursuing this strategy could cause Uber to take a financial hit in the short term, as it makes less money from a bike ride than one taken in a car. But if, over time, people begin to use bikes and scooters more, as has happened in Uber’s home city of San Francisco, then the system would become profitable.
Uber’s bike plans put it up against rival ridesharing company Lyft, which has adopted a similar strategy. A slew of other companies around the world are also launching bike- and scooter-sharing services in a bid to secure their place in the lucrative mobility market.
But such schemes come with their own unique challenges. For example, some cities have seen a backlash among locals fed up with the two-wheelers cluttering the streets or being driven recklessly along sidewalks. In June, San Francisco officials banned schemes that use electric scooters, forcing operators to apply for permits. Twelve companies — Uber and Lyft among them — have submitted applications. It’s a situation that’s likely to be repeated across many cities in the coming years and a mark of just how competitive the business has become.
Uber drivers, meanwhile, may not be feeling too great about Khosrowshahi’s proposed strategy, despite the CEO saying that while it may mean fewer car rides, it should eventually lead to longer, more profitable rides, and hopefully on roads that are less clogged with cars.
Though it could be a ways off, Uber drivers are also watching the rearview mirror for the company’s driverless cars. Despite a serious setback in March when one of its autonomous vehicles knocked down and killed a pedestrian during a test drive, the company is continuing to develop the technology with the aim of launching a fleet of driverless taxis in the coming years.
Indeed, just this week there have been reports that Japanese automaker Toyota is investing $500 million in Uber’s robot-taxi program.
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