Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi (left) and Axel Springer CEO Christoph Keese show off Uber’s new bike sharing service, Jump. Uber wants to have scooters, too.
They’re not just next-generation taxis anymore.
Uber and Lyft are both barreling full force into a future in which they’ll handle every conceivable way to get you from Point A to Point B — and in the process disrupt the very concept of personal car ownership.
Both ride-hailing companies have joined the throng of a dozen firms vying to unleash electric scooters on the streets of San Francisco. Uber scooped up electric-bike rental service Jump Bikes in April, while Lyft is rumored to be buying bike-share company Motivate. In some cities, Uber added rentals of people’s personal cars via Getaround and a deal with mobile-ticket provider Masabi that will let users buy public transit tickets via its app. Both have partnered with a few dozen cities to supplement public transit with late-night service, paratransit rides, connections and extra capacity in lightly populated areas. Lyft is adding more in-app integration with transit systems.
“Their overall strategy is to be the one-stop transportation providers for cities,” said Arun Sundararajan, an NYU business professor and author of “The Sharing Economy.” “Uber and Lyft are betting their valuations on being transportation on demand — all forms of transportation.”
It’s a vision that both companies have outlined in public.
“We want to provide alternatives to personal car ownership by bringing together multiple modes of transportation right in our app,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in an April blog post.
“We believe cities should be built around people, not cars,” Lyft wrote in a blog post this month.
And it’s a vision they can see vividly played out right now on the streets of China, where Didi Chuxing’s app helps millions of people a day book ride-hail cars, taxis, carpools, buses, minibuses, car rentals and bike rentals.
“Didi has already released software for cities to optimize transportation,” Sundararajan said. “It has such detailed information about traffic flows that it can connect to the system that controls traffic lights, understand when trains arrive and leave. It’s created the template for a tech platform that controls the city’s transportation.”
It’s almost ironic that scooters — until recently a niche product mainly the province of schoolkids — suddenly became so key to the companies’ visions of global transport dominance.
“We see scooters gaining customer traction quickly; people really like to ride them, especially for short city trips as they’re faster and more convenient than walking,” said Ryan Rzepecki, CEO and founder of Jump Bikes, Uber’s newest acquisition. Jump already has 250 electric bikes, also called e-bikes, in San Francisco and hopes to add to that with city permission.
Jump’s e-bikes are used an average of 10 users a day, and Rzepecki expects scooters to prove equally popular. San Francisco could accommodate 2,500 to 5,000 e-bikes, he said, which would allow dispersing them throughout the city, beyond the current concentration on its eastern side.
While scooters, bikes and e-bikes would expand Uber’s and Lyft’s reach, they could also cannibalize their core ride-hailing businesses.
That’s not a concern, said Andrew Salzberg, Uber head of transportation policy.
An analogy: Uber started with the deluxe and pricey Uber Black limousine service; when it added lower-cost UberX rides in personal cars to compete with Lyft, that cut into the limo rides, but expanded the whole market.
“We made less per-trip revenue but found a much bigger pool of users for lower-cost UberX so we were quite happy to disrupt ourselves,” he said. “Bikes, scooters, public transit, all fall in that same bucket of bringing prices down. Our philosophy is to make transportation more accessible for more people at a lower cost.”
But even if scooters and bikes grow the companies’ business, they could still take away rides from existing Uber and Lyft drivers. “Increased scooter and bike (use) will threaten ride-share drivers’ revenue, particularly in high-density areas,” said Andy Pillsbury, vice president of SherpaShare, which makes an app drivers use to track earnings.
In San Francisco, about 58,000 ride-hailed trips a day, a third of all Uber and Lyft trips, are single-passenger hops of less than 3 miles, according to an analysis by SherpaShare.
Theoretically, those trips could be supplanted by bikes and scooters, although in reality many people will still prefer the convenience of car trips — and San Francisco’s initial caps on scooters (1,250 for the whole city) and dockless e-bikes (250) will limit usage.
While Lyft declined to comment for this story, it pointed to its scooter application, which stresses that it will provide incentives for scooter users going to or from public transit, while its app will use “real-time transit data to help scooter riders plan and execute multimodal trips using Muni, BART and Caltrain.”
Transit advocates, who often fret that Uber and Lyft clog roadways and create hazards for bicyclists, welcomed the companies’ entry into greener two-wheeled transport.
“Not many people in our country take bikes and scooters for utilitarian trips, for going to work, the grocery store, out at night even though it’s a low-cost healthy way to get around,” said Paul Mackie, director of research and communications at the Mobility Labs think tank. “It’s great that Uber and Lyft are putting money and publicity and building interest in these other great ways to travel. It lends credence to them as mobility companies, not just tech companies.”
Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @csaid