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Coming soon to the Uber app: bikes, rental cars, and public transportation

Remember back in the day when you’d open the Uber app and just see cars? Well, that’s all about to change. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is in Washington, DC today to make a wide-ranging announcement on Uber’s plans to integrate a variety of new transportation options to its app, including bikes, car-sharing vehicles, and public transportation like buses and trains. Uber will also share more of its data on traffic patterns and curbside usage with cities in an effort to become “true partners to cities for the long term,” Khosrowshahi said.

It’s a bold expansion into new modes of transportation for a company that is still trying to shake its reputation for rule-breaking and only a few weeks ago suffered one of its worst setbacks to date after an Uber self-driving car killed a pedestrian in Arizona. But since taking the helm last year, Khosrowshahi has been rushing to remake the company in his own image. Acquiring dockless bike-share company Jump earlier this week was his first major deal. And today’s announcement is the next step in his plan to transform Uber from a mere ride-sharing company into a global marketplace for transportation.

“As we think about where we want our cities to be in the future, we know we can do more,” Khosrowshahi writes in a blog post, “and we will.”

Coming fast on the heels of the Jump acquisition, Uber announced today that Washington residents could now reserve and pay for Jump bikes using Uber’s app. The electric, dockless bike-share startup has been operating in DC since September 2017, and now those bikes will be available to rent on Uber’s app.

Uber is also dipping its toes in the world of car-sharing. Later this month, Uber will launch a new product in San Francisco called “Uber Rent,” in which users can rent cars on Uber’s app through a partnership with Getaround. Uber and Getaround, a peer-to-peer car-sharing startup, have been working together in San Francisco for nearly a year to provide daily car rentals to people who want to drive for Uber but don’t own their own vehicle. Now, that service will be available to anyone who needs a car for a few hours or maybe a whole day — also through Uber’s app.

Using Uber to reserve someone else’s car to run errands or take a day trip to Lake Tahoe may seem like cannibalizing Uber’s core ride-hailing business, but the company insists it serves the broader mission of reducing personal car ownership. “Not all trips are well-serviced by Uber,” said Jahan Khanna, head of product for Uber’s mobility division. “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, and this is an important aspect of that.”

Uber Rent will only be available in San Francisco to start out, but if all goes well, it could eventually find its way into other cities served by Getaround such as Boston, New Jersey, Portland, and Washington, DC, said Sam Zaid, the company’s CEO. That said, Zaid doesn’t see this collaboration with Uber as an audition for an eventual acquisition, à la Jump. “I can’t rule out what the outcomes could be,” he said. “Getaround has been around much longer than Jump. We’re a much more mature company.”

Zaid said he is fully on board with Uber’s mission of reducing personal car ownership. “What we heard loud and clear from our users when they start to use Getaround actively and they move away from car ownership, they still have to use things like public transit, biking, walking, as well as ride-sharing to get the complete experience,” he said. “I think that’s true on the Uber side as well... how do you give people a full suite of mobility solutions, recognizing that any one particular mode is insufficient to replace owning a car?”

Another piece of the puzzle is public transportation. Recent studies show that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft tend to poach riders away from public services like buses and subways. But Uber says it’s committed to providing further links to public transit. The company just inked a deal with London-based mobile ticketing company Masabi to allow Uber users to buy and use transit tickets on the app. The two companies are still working out in which markets and for what transit systems Masabi’s integration into Uber will work.

It will likely work much like Masabi’s partnership with Transit, a popular public transportation app in the US, in which users are able to browse fare types, make payments, and receive mobile tickets — all within the same app they use to hail Uber cars. Masabi’s mobile ticketing technology is currently being used by more than 30 transport authorities and operators worldwide, including New York’s MTA, Boston’s MBTA, the UK’s National Express Bus, Las Vegas’ RTC, Los Angeles’ Metrolink, and The Hague.

The partnership with Masabi would appear to be in line with Khosrowshahi’s ambitions to expand more aggressively into public transportation. Earlier this year, Khosrowshahi said that Uber could eventually become a marketplace for other transportation providers, just like Amazon is a marketplace for third-party merchants today, and highlighted the variety of Uber’s existing businesses, which range from food delivery to trucking.

“I want to run the bus systems for a city,” Khosrowshahi said at an event sponsored by Goldman Sachs. “I want you to be able to take an Uber and get into the subway... get out and have an Uber waiting for you.”

On the data-sharing side of the equation, today, Uber announced its plans to expand its Movement project to over a dozen new cities. First launched by Uber last year, Movement is an online tool expressly for cities for mapping travel times, powered by the company’s vast store of ride data. The site allows users to measure travel times between various parts of a city, tracking how those trips get faster or slower over time. Cities that will now have access to Uber’s Movement tool include Amsterdam, Bangalore, Brisbane, Cairo, Hyderabad, Melbourne, Mumbai, Nairobi, New Delhi, Perth, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.

More locally, Uber is teaming up with the city of Washington, DC and SharedStreets, a nonprofit collaboration between the National Association of City Transportation Officials and the Open Transport Partnership, to compile and analyze data on curb usage in Washington, DC. Uber will share its data on popular curbs for ride-hailing pickups and drop-offs in the city in the hopes of convincing officials to designate more space for ride-hailing services like Uber.

“Better understanding curb utilization can help cities around the world prepare for a future where more and more of us are accessing transportation through a combination of shared modes, rather than relying on our own vehicles,” Khosrowshahi said in a blog post.

On the surface, Uber’s Washington announcement may seem like only a handful of pilots and some one-off experiments. But Andrew Sulzberg, Uber’s head of transportation policy and research, said the aims are much more ambitious.

“As I think about the core challenge in urban transportation, not just in the US but in cities around the world, a lot of it is how to manage cars,” Sulzberg said. “There’s a huge emphasis on the city side of how to do get people into other modes of transportation that is not driving their own car.”

But Uber isn’t a nonprofit, and its motivations shouldn’t be seen as entirely altruistic. Clearly, the company sees the profit to be made in bike-sharing, car-sharing, and transit ticketing. And for a company that has never been profitable — Uber ended 2017 $3.2 billion in the hole — finding new revenue streams outside of its core business of ride-hailing is growing increasingly urgent.

“We’re still really small as a share of overall travel in this country and around the world,” Sulzberg said. “Single-digit percentage, 1 percent, give or take. So there’s a lot of space to grow by adding more options into the app. It’s not a new strategy for us, in terms of lower price points and new options.”

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