Jun 20, 2019

Uber's one-stop plan for transportation

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

In 10 short years, Uber's ride-hailing service has become so ubiquitous that people use "uber" as a verb. For its next act, Uber wants to manage everything about how you get around, whether on the roads or sidewalks, underground or in the air.

The big picture: Like Amazon, which started selling books online and now delivers almost everything right to your door, Uber aims to leverage its digital expertise from ride-hailing to become a one-stop shop for transportation.

  • Here's how CEO Dara Khosrowshahi described the grand vision last week at the Uber Elevate Summit: "We don't just want to be the Amazon of transportation, but also the Google of transportation."

In Uber's multi-modal view of the future, you'd use the Uber app to punch in your destination — JFK Airport, for example — and you'd be offered multiple options for your journey, each with an estimated time of arrival and different price point.

  • You could get an inexpensive Uber Pool or Uber X, the app might say — but with current traffic, expect it to take up to 2 hours.
  • Or you could hail an Uber car to a downtown skyport and then board an air taxi that will zip you over the congested freeway to JFK, saving time but doubling your fare.
  • You'd select the option that suits your schedule or budget, and it would all be stitched together into a one-click transaction.

Starting with scooters and e-bikes, the pieces of that personal mobility vision are beginning to come together.

  • Next month, Uber will launch piloted helicopter service between lower Manhattan and JFK for around $200, about the cost of a premium Uber Black car ride.
  • It's a precursor to Uber Air, the name for its planned flying taxi network that is set to start trials next year in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Melbourne, Australia. Commercial passenger service is targeted for 2023.
  • Last week, Uber and Volvo introduced their latest autonomous vehicle prototype, which could one day drive itself — at least on simple routes.
  • In Boston and Denver, Uber has integrated real-time public transit information into its app, with the goal of allowing people to purchase bus or train tickets through Uber.

Business transportation is another growth opportunity, like restaurants that deliver meals using Uber Eats, or health care agencies that hire Uber Health to provide rides for patients so they don't miss their appointments.

  • Uber Freight aims to make logistics more efficient by matching shippers with carriers the way it pairs ride-hailing customers with drivers.

Uber's expertise in matching supply and demand, and the cloud-based digital platform it built for ride-hailing, make it easier to build out that broader transportation ecosystem.

  • "We want to be your everyday use case when you wake up and you go to work, or you go out to eat or you go see a friend, we want to be there," says Khosrowshahi.

The bottom line: There's definitely an advantage to having one transportation app, with one-click payment, anywhere in the world — as long as you don't mind Uber following you around.

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