In the first public event at Uber’s Greenlight Hub in Ward 7, the new CEO of the ride-hailing service had a bold proposition: Uber can’t be just about ride-hailing anymore.
And to get there, the company will need D.C.’s help.
At an event Wednesday, Uber unveiled a series of new partnerships and announcements with this goal in mind — many focused nationally. For instance, Uber customers will be able to use the app to not only hail a ride, but also to rent cars through a partnership with Getaround; access public transportation option with Masabi; and book e-bike rental operations following its acquisition of JUMP bikes on Monday. And Uber is expanding some of its city planning data tools to more cities around the world.
But, looking under the hood of these partnerships, D.C. is integral to Uber’s plans to focus beyond ride-hailing, as seen in other announcements, including a new D.C. pilot launch and plans to doubledown on JUMP’s presence around the District. Let alone the fact that the company decided to unveil all of these new plans in Washington, instead of its hometown of San Francisco.
“Uber has grown up with the cities of the world, and we have helped revolutionize urban transportation and urban mobility,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said at an event in D.C. Wednesday. “We want to be a part of that solution with cities.”
Take the acquisition of JUMP bikes by Uber in a reportedly $200 million deal. Khosrowshahi said the company plans to double JUMP’s existing presence to 400 bicycles in the District in the next few weeks. And seeing as that’s the maximum number of bikes any dockless operator can have in the city until the D.C. Department of Transportation’s pilot ends later this month, it’s fair to assume that number could go up — depending on the results of the pilot program. Right now, JUMP only operates in San Francisco and Washington.
“Having e-bikes available on a dockless basis in cities in a responsible way is going to allow more and more people to move around cities in ways that are efficient and that don’t cause traffic,” Khosrowshahi said. “Uber is going to be about more than just hailing a car, but about moving from point A to B so that it’s affordable and it’s responsible.”
Uber will also launch a pilot program with SharedStreets, a not-for-profit data project from the National Association of City Transportation Officials and the Open Transport Partnership in the District, aimed at creating easy ways to share data between cities and private enterprises to make better, more informed policy decisions.
In the partnership, SharedStreets will now integrate Uber ride data into its platforms alongside its existing taxi rider data and share it with D.C. officials. And depending on the data sharing pilot’s success, Uber will extend the partnership to other locations.
“This partnership will be essential as we and cities work together to learn how to share this data in a way that works for all of us,” said Meghan Joyce, regional general manager of the U.S. and Canada, at the event.
But, despite all the talk of new programs and plans, it’s important to remind everyone that Uber already was leaning heavily on the District for ride-hailing and food delivery. The presence is so big, in fact, that Mayor Muriel Bowser and her administration have been weighing the possibility of taxing Uber and similar ride-hailing startups in the region to fund WMATA.
While Khosrowshahi said Uber understands it’s a privilege to be able to operate on a city’s infrastructure during a panel discussion Wednesday, he later told Adam Tuss from NBC Washington that if the taxes went through, the taxes would lead to higher ride prices for consumers.
— Adam Tuss (@AdamTuss) April 11, 2018
Khosrowshahi laid out two big ideas Uber is keeping in mind while discussing the policy with the Bowser administration: 1) They want to ensure there’s an even-playing field among all ride-hailing services, and 2) They want to make sure that the cost doesn’t become prohibitive to anyone in the region because of taxes.
“We do see this as an investment in mass transit that ultimately, long-term, will serve us, as well,” Khosrowshahi said during a panel discussion with Mayor Bowser. “We will be constructive in the dialogue.”
Here are a few other news bits from the event:
- On Uber Express Pool: In launching Uber Express Pool in the past month, Uber found itself subsidizing the cost of rides in an effort to get people to actually try it out. “If you look at Uber Pool and Uber Pool Express, it’s ridiculously cheap,” Khosrowshahi said. “And it’s ridiculously cheap so you can try it. We’re investing and we’re totally committed to it.” For context, Express Pool launched in February in an effort to cut out the detouring and roundabout driving that comes with Uber’s carpooling option, Pool. Express Pool rides are about half the cost of normal UberPool rides.
- On Uber Eats Delivery: Khosrowshahi said he’s been “surprised” at the demand they’ve seen in Ward 7, an East of the River neighborhood. Typically, food delivery and other services are scarce in the heavily black East of the River communities, but Khosrowshahi says they’ve seen high-demand in the area. “We want to be available to everyone everywhere. We launched Eats in this area [Ward 7], and it has been an absolute surprise and a dynamite area,” he said.
- On Uber D.C. Greenlight Hub Opening: The new hub for the region’s drivers is expected to open in the “next month or two,” the Uber CEO said. Greenlight Hubs already exist in other cities, including Baltimore, New York and Pittsburgh. The center is expected to create 25 full-time jobs.