Uber relaunching as Amazon-style hub for connecting all transport

Uber relaunching as Amazon-style hub for connecting all transport

Uber’s launch of Uber Rent, JUMP integration, and public transport ticketing signal that it now sees itself as an Amazon-style marketplace for frictionless transport, says Chris Middleton.

Uber has made a number of announcements this week that signal a strategic gear shift for the ride-sharing and driverless car company.

First, Uber is partnering with social car rental service Getaround to launch a service called Uber Rent. The new offering will allow people to rent cars from private owners by the hour.

The Getaround platform enables people to not only find and hire owners’ cars on demand, but also to make money from their own vehicles by renting them out when they’re not using them.

Uber Rent will use the cars listed on Getaround’s peer-to-peer platform. The pilot rollout will take place in San Francisco in the coming weeks, with more cities likely to follow in the future.

Uber and Getaround have previously partnered to enable Uber’s own drivers to source rental vehicles.

Strategic gear shift

On the surface, the deal would appear to disintermediate Uber’s core ride sharing business. That might have been the case in the past, but Uber’s mission now is to offer a viable alternative to car ownership by all and any means.

“Not all trips are well-serviced by Uber,” admitted Jahan Khanna, head of product for Uber mobility. “Without this offering, our platform really can’t compete holistically with the value proposition of owning your own car. And we’re chipping away at that piece by piece. This is an important aspect of that.”

JUMP Bikes

The Getaround deal follows in the tail lights of the announcement earlier this week of Uber’s acquisition of electric-bike hire company JUMP Bikes, in a deal thought to be worth in excess of $100 million.

Uber users are now able to locate, reserve, and pay for JUMP bikes through the Uber app in cities where JUMP and Uber both have a presence, announced the company yesterday.

Amazon for transport

These latest moves confirm that CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s strategy is to remake Uber as a frictionless transport company – an Amazon-style marketplace and hub for sourcing and paying for any type of transport on demand.

That includes public systems. In an unexpected move this week, Uber has also partnered with London-based mobile ticketing startup, Masabi, to allow Uber users to source public transport tickets.

Masabi’s technology is currently used by over 30 transport operators worldwide, including the New York’s MTA and the UK’s National Express Bus service.

The deal must have had special significance for Uber: last year, London withdrew Uber’s ride-share licence in a move that seemed to make little difference to residents’ ability to use the service.

Big urban data

Over time, Uber will also become a big data hub for how people use transport systems in cities.

In further announcements, Uber is expanding its Movement project , which measures travel times from ride-sharing data, to over a dozen new cities, including Amsterdam, Bangalore, Brisbane, Cairo, Melbourne, Mumbai, Nairobi, New Delhi, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.

Meanwhile in Washington DC, Uber is teaming with SharedStreets, a nonprofit programme for sharing open data on city usage. The aim is to gather data on popular curbs for ride-sharing usage in the city, in the hope that more spaces will be set aside for services such as Uber.

The driverless future

So what of Uber’s autonomous or semi-automated car programme?

Speaking at a transport forum yesterday in the US, CEO Khosrowshahi said his company is still betting on the technology, despite the accident in which a pedestrian was killed by an Uber car that was running under software control last month in Tempe, Arizona.

“We believe in it,” he said, adding that Uber considers autonomous vehicles to be “part of the solution” to eliminating the need for car ownership in the long term. “Autonomous (vehicles) at maturity will be safer,” he added.

None of Uber’s recent moves, such as investing in bike sharing and public transit, should be interpreted as signalling a shift away from driverless transport, he said.

However, Khosrowshahi didn’t say when Uber might resume autonomous technology testing – the company was ordered off the road by Arizona state authorities after the accident – or give any information about what went wrong. However, he said that Uber is working with accident investigators to establish the cause of the crash.

Speaking on the Today show in the US, the CEO described autonomous cars as “student drivers”.

• In related news today, a US judge ruled that limousine drivers for Uber’s UberBLACK service are independent contractors and not employees according to federal law. This establishes a clear legal precedent.

Internet of Business says

An Amazon-style transport marketplace is a big ambition, but also a realistic one – given that Amazon would be playing catch-up to offer its own competitive service. And taking the friction out of customers’ lives will help Uber on its slow journey to building a friendlier, less confrontational reputation. A leisurely drive into the future, rather than a ride into the Wild West, perhaps.

But whether Uber can be a truly global player is a different matter. Uber has recently pulled out of some Asian markets where ride-sharing and bike rental are dominated by local companies. In return for leaving, Uber has taken a financial stake in some of those players. The aggressive deal-maker of old hasn’t completely disappeared, it seems.

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