Uber Chief Eyes Public Transport


In an effort to achieve its ambition of becoming the dominant source of urban transport Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said he wants to integrate Uber into London’s public transport, specifically, the city bus system.

Despite the company’s ongoing issues with authorities (and regulations) worldwide, Uber wants to be more than simply a ride-hailing service.

At a recent Goldman Sachs conference, CEO Khosrowshahi outlined his Mobility-as-a-Service vision saying, “I want you to be able to take an Uber and get into the subway… and get out and have an Uber waiting for you.”

The rideshare firm has already ventured into this area debuting its uberHOP and uberPOOL services, which each have traits of public transport. Currently, Uber is trialling a bike-sharing system in partnership with Jump in San Francisco, each of these moves are signals that it is looking to become more than just a ride-hailing business and transform into an integrated transport platform.

UK Bus Network

With the UK’s bus network suffering from decreasing budgets and a series of cuts, the country’s public transport network is shrinking. For some, transport platform companies like Uber offer a solution.

In 2017 UK transport minister Chris Grayling said that on-demand ‘Uber-style’ models could replace traditional bus services. However, the company’s focus on profit could potentially cause problems.

In the public sector, profitable bus routes fund those which cover the more rural, less busy areas and ensure widespread coverage and accessibility. The temptation for private-sector companies is to target the easy customers and leave the unprofitable areas to languish.

Doesn’t Play Well With Others

Due to Uber’s… less than professional reputation to date (which veers from sketchy to repugnant), not everyone is as confident as Khosrowshahi is about Uber’s ability to run a transit system.

Greg Lindsay, Senior Fellow for Mobility at NewCities think tank said: “Cities have to be extremely careful with Uber…Their corporate culture issues are well known at this point… Cities should think twice. Uber doesn’t play well with others.”

This is a serious issue for the company if it has real ambitions to become a Mobility-as-a-Service company. MaaS provides customers with a single entry point to a seamless transport experience. It requires all participants and providers to cooperate and collaborate, sharing data and allowing the user to enter through any provider. Uber’s reputation as a maverick (some might even say bully) does not fit into the MaaS models which are emerging worldwide.

Lindsay’s warning is borne out by Uber’s recent behaviour, which saw it halting services in several countries such as Norway, Finland and (as of 19/02/2018) Morocco saying they will not resume operations until the regulatory framework in those countries changes. At the same time, Waymo recently received a settlement from Uber of $245 million over the stealing of trade secrets.

Uber Consolidating Its Effort

Despite several high profile scandals including sexual harassment, espionage, data breaches, hack cover-ups and its harsh treatment of employees Uber remains one of the fastest growing tech start-ups. Last year it sold off its business in China and now it seems set to do the same in Southeast Asia with rival Grab. If that happens it could help pave the way for the company’s Initial Public Offering (IPO).

This would fall in-line with Khosrowshahi’s desire to focus on cutting losses and rehabilitating Uber’s brand “we have a long way to go, but we have to re-earn our consumer and driver trust. Just getting the love back is a very important priority for us.”

However, Uber has just been rocked by yet another scandal as one of its Uber Eats drivers has allegedly shot and killed a customer after an ‘exchange of words.’

Considering Uber was branded by Transport for London (TfL) as unfit to run a taxi service (the company is still appealing the decision), this most recent incident cannot be regarded as anything more than hugely unhelpful.

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