Uber is a car company, right?, No, not entirely, and who knows where it’s going following its latest acquisition. Antony Savvas looks at the implications for fleet management. Uber was recently the subject of very bad news in the US, with a tragic fatal accident in Arizona involving one of its driverless cars and a woman crossing a road with her bike. But the often-criticised firm seems to be going into another fleet management direction with the acquisition of motorised push bike firm JUMP this month.
Uber said of the acquisition: “We’re focused on championing smart technology for smart cities. But our ultimate goal is one we share with cities around the world: Making it easier to live without owning a personal car.”
Younger people are not buying cars in the same numbers they used to, just like they are not buying houses in the same volumes either. Whilst this may well be down to wages not keeping up with the cost of living, particularly in cities, the as-a-service model seems to be winning out in every sphere of our lives.
This includes anything from renting a home instead of buying one to paying for transport when you need it, instead of having something sitting on your drive for long periods.
In that case why bother buying a bike and having to worry about its upkeep and security when you can rent one for a couple of dollars an hour. Uber has obviously done the maths and it wouldn’t be surprising if its margins on renting out remotely tracked bikes are actually higher than what it makes from taxi rides. And with any increase in taxi ride-sharing, which, up to a level, Uber promotes, there may be a reduction of active Uber drivers on the road making the firm money.
Technology companies – Uber, the media and business commentators alike regard the company as just that – now know they have to play the ‘green card’ to keep the young, and many of the old, on-side. So, what is greener than a bike – even if it has a motor to help you get up to modest speeds a bit quicker? The greener electric JUMP motor is also handy in the hillier parts of San Francisco where the firm has one of its main markets.
All this is confirmed by Uber itself when supporting lower car ownership with the help of JUMP: “Achieving that goal ultimately means improving urban life by reducing congestion, pollution and the need for parking spaces. We’re committed to bringing together multiple modes of transportation within the Uber app, whether that’s in an Uber [car] or on a bike.”
JUMP, so far, offers around 500 electric bikes with built-in GPS and a lockable metal bar in the San Francisco area and Washington DC, and there are now plans for expansion.
In the “land of the car”, it is perhaps not surprising that it took so long for the US to move towards bikes as an everyday mode of transport. As a Brit, I sometimes think people are actually staring at me from their cars in some parts of the US when I take the trouble to walk anywhere, particularly at night, but maybe I’m a paranoid Brit?
Putting any delusions aside though, JUMP isn’t the only one to, well, jump at the market opportunity. There are now plenty of US firms making good money by getting Americans out of their cars – if they still own one – and getting them on a bike.
Motivate International runs corporate branded bike fleets with Ford, no less, and also banking firm Citi, in cities including New York, Portland, Washington DC, Columbus, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco.
And LimeBike offers bikes and electric scooters in more than 50 cities, including San Francisco; and Bird Rides offers electric scooters in both Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In addition, Scoot Networks offers electric bikes which look more like motorbikes (and which come with a full helmet with every ride), push bikes and cars in San Francisco; and Spin competes with LimeBike and Bird on the rented scooter front,
So maybe the US will eventually no longer be the land of the car, and will instead be the home of the electric-assisted push vehicle?
The author of this blog is Antony Savvas is a freelance technology writer