Four Takeaways from Uber’s Big Launch Day

April 13, 2018

Uber announced Wednesday a series of new initiatives designed to work with cities in addressing challenges related to transportation and technology. Uber listed their goals as reducing individual car ownership, expanding transportation access, and helping governments plan future investments.

Uber unveiled five new business elements: three that expand Uber services beyond ride hailing, and two related to data sharing between Uber and the cities in which it operates.

Mobility Beyond Ridesharing

  • Bikesharing: synchronization with JUMP bikes: Uber users in Washington, DC can now find a JUMP pedal-assist electric bike directly through the Uber app. This service was previously available only in San Francisco.
  • Peer-to-peer carsharing: integrated services with Getaround: Uber will soon launch Uber Rent powered by Getaround in San Francisco so Uber users can rent out their own cars to other drivers directly through the Uber app.
  • Transit access: partnership with Masabi: Uber is in the early stages of an agreement with Masabi to let Uber customers book and use transit tickets in the Uber app. We don’t know yet which cities that will be available in first.

Data Sharing Partnerships with Cities

  • SharedStreets pilot: This is a new public-private partnership between Uber, the DC government, and a new organization called SharedStreets. The pilot, starting in DC, will share data on curb usage across all modes of transportation to help the city better understand curb utilization, while respecting rider and driver privacy.
  • Movement expansion: Uber announced it will expand Uber Movement to 12 new cities around the world, bringing the total number to 21. Movement is a website that offers aggregated Uber data to show travel times.

Uber announced these new partnerships at a press event at its new Greenlight Hub off Minnesota Avenue in Ward 7. The event included a conversation moderated by Eno President and CEO Robert Puentes and featured DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, and Stephen Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis and director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

The conversation covered a lot of ground, from data sharing to sustainability to equity. Below are four key takeaways.

  1.  Uber is moving towards multi-modal coordination

 By adding bike-sharing, car-sharing, and transit integration to its arsenal, Uber is positioning itself to become an intermodal juggernaut. And that’s the point: Uber mobility product head Jahan Khanna framed the new partnerships as “doubling down on Uber becoming more than just ridesharing, but the predominant Point A to Point B transportation platform in the world.”

That’s a tall order, especially in a city with such a wealth of transportation options as DC—Mayor Bowser talked up the “highly functioning metro system,” city busses that supplement Metro bus service, the successful Capital Bikeshare, and others—but Uber’s new programs will get it a lot closer to being that one-stop-shop for getting around a city.

Yet, as Goldsmith said, government does have a role to play in bringing this coordination to fruition: local governments that demonstrate greater integration across departments also lend themselves to more partnerships with private companies. An example of that is the City of Cincinnati, which formed a collaborative of municipal and regional agencies and business interests to partner with Uber earlier this year for the Cincinnati Mobility Lab.

  1. There’s a place for public transportation in Uber’s world

While ride-hailing and similar services are often put at odds with mass transit (the idea being that people will choose one mode or the other to get around), everyone on the dais struck a conciliatory tone, framing mass transit and ride-hailing services as complementary, all with the same goal of helping everyone get around quickly and safely.

Indeed, Uber’s new partnership with Masabi seems to be an acknowledgment that while they may be in competition for riders, the region’s mass transit options are here to stay. And if Uber wants its app to reign supreme in helping people get around the district, then it behooves them to let people transition seamlessly between public transportation and other modes (i.e. those owned by Uber).

Khanna called the partnership “the beginning of sustained investment on behalf of Uber into making mass transit into first-class citizens in the Uber family.”

  1. Equity is key – but it doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone

Mayor Bowser and Khosrowshahi were quick to agree that equity in service is important—a notable if unsurprising point of agreement following the Washington Post piece highlighting that ride-hailing service Via violated DC law by serving only select neighborhoods. But how a city ensures equitable service will depend on how that city defines equity.

Mayor Bowser brought up the need to have a “full view” of what equity is, and that includes deciding how we want to define and measure equity, as well as what goals we want to set. For example, that could mean affluent areas with no access to mass transit, more remote parts of the district that are less densely populated and thus harder for mass transit to penetrate, or less affluent areas that are underserved by private companies.

Khosrowshahi gave a specific example of the latter: the success of UberEats in Ward 7. Prior to the launch of UberEats, there was little food delivery service in the economically challenged ward, but (perhaps due in part to that lack of competition) UberEats has found success there.

  1. Data sharing can help cities, under the right circumstances

 All three of the panelists said data can help cities solve some of their problems, from congestion to equity to accessibility. Bowser, for example, said data is helping DC achieve a higher percentage of people not using single-occupancy vehicles and is also helping to improve accessibility.

But data alone is no panacea. All the data in the world is no good if it just enables cities to make bad decisions faster. How cities and other entities use that information to develop data-driven policies to address problems (of equity, sustainability, or otherwise) matters.

Indeed, Meghan Verena Joyce, Uber’s regional general manager for the U.S. and Canada, said that “technology and data alone are not solutions for the myriad of cities’ challenges—but when done right and in partnership with other players, they have the potential to improve the system.

Uber’s press event with the mayor gave both the company and the city the opportunity to present a united front in providing residents with safe, affordable, and equitable transportation options. Given Uber’s new initiatives, it will be interesting to see how the company continues to shift in the direction of inter-modality, and how it works with cities to confront challenges related to transportation.

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