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Here’s why Uber wants its drivers to believe in bikes

Here’s why Uber wants its drivers to believe in bikes
[Photo: Charl Folscher/Unsplash]

Uber, which made its name on car rides, is looking to the bicycle for growth.

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In an interview with the Financial Times, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he wants to push scooters and bikes for short trips in congested urban centers, a move that would let drivers focus on longer, more lucrative trips. At the same time, the move will also impact Uber’s bottom line, as the company makes more money on car trips than it does on bike and scooter rentals.

The perspective shift comes as politicians weigh the impact of ridehailing on their cities. A July report from transportation expert Bruce Schaller found that transportation network companies like Uber added 5.7 billion miles of driving in one year in nine cities across the United States. The report also noted that 60% of people who hail a ride would have walked, biked, taken public transportation, or just stayed home had the car service not been available to them.

In conclusion, the report asked policymakers to think about how they can improve other transport options. “Working toward a goal of less traffic means making space-efficient modes such as buses and bikes more attractive than personal autos and TNCs on key attributes of speed, reliability, comfort, and cost,” the report says.

As politicians mull transportation solutions, increasingly the answer to their traffic woes may be to regulate Uber. New York City passed landmark legislation this year that puts new for-hire vehicle license applications on pause while the city studies the transportation landscape. Experts say this could lead other cities to take similar action. The clampdown raises questions about Uber’s ability to keep growing at a time when the company is thrusting toward a public offering.

The company may have seen this all coming. It bought the electric bike-share startup Jump in April. It also invested in Lime, a shared bike and electric scooter company.

Already cities like Los Angeles are considering the ways in which they can incorporate shared bikes and cars into their overall mobility strategy. The focus is on adding transport options that will get people from the subway, train, or bus, back home—the “last mile” as they say. Uber, too, is a piece of this, but again, public officials have to weigh the convenience of transportation at the touch of the button against the realities of what those additional cars mean for traffic.

Khosrowshahi is trying to take the long view here by diversifying beyond the car, and he’s pretty sure he can at least get drivers on board. He told the FT that while drivers are skeptical at first whiff, arguing that Uber is forcing them to compete with bikes, “the second impression after the conversation is, ‘Oh, I get a longer ride where I can make more money? Sign me up.'”

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