Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, told a mobility conference in the nation’s capitol last week that his company is looking forward to becoming a multi-modal transportation company in the future. Recently, Uber made a significant investment in JUMP, the electric bike sharing network now operating in San Francisco.
Uber told the audience, which included Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser and professor Stephen Goldsmith from the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, that making transportation safe, equitable, and affordable is the goal. To further that agenda, Uber wants to forge closer ties with cities like Washington, D.C. In addition to ride-hailing, which is the core of its current business, and bike-sharing, Uber intends to add car rentals and public transportation to the portfolio of services it offers.
In order to reduce urban congestion, Uber wants to expand car-sharing but has found the public resistant to the idea. “There are these societal norms that we have to battle,” Khosrowshahi said. “You share a car with someone, and it kind of feels a little weird.” He noted that people don’t know if it’s socially acceptable to work while sharing a car. They also don’t know whether it’s permissible to strike up a conversation with others or to stay silent. Such considerations are similar to the social pressures people feel in elevators.
Uber says it’s investing “hundreds of millions of dollars per year” in order to convince people to use its Express carpooling service. In addition to overcoming social norms, it has found people want to know exactly when their vehicle will arrive and when they will get to their destination. TechCrunch reports that Khosrowshahi told the group,”We are having to discount very aggressively, much more than you’d think,” to get people to share rides. “The combination of the societal norms and then the question of when exactly am I going to get there are the real friction points we’ve had to fight.”
Uber hopes that using data in new ways will help make public transportation more appealing. Knowing when a bus will show up is a big deal if its raining or snowing out, if it’s too hot or too cold. If they have that information available,“we think that’s going to drive use and ultimately that’s going to make it even better to live in a city like this one.”
Despite its recent troubles with its self driving cars, Khosrowshahi says autonomous cars are still very much a part of the company’s future. “Autonomous is part of the solution and I think long term it’s going to be an important part of the solution of getting rid of car ownership,” Khosrowshahi said. “Autonomous at maturity will be safer,” he says.
Clearly, Uber wants to be seen as an honest broker when it comes to helping people get around easily and inexpensively, taking a small piece of the action for its troubles. According to what its crystal ball is telling it, Uber expects people will soon stop buying cars altogether and transition to paying others to drive them around. It may be right, but there are lots of other companies who will want a piece of that action.
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