Uber bets big on … bicycles?

The future of transportation is the bicycle. At least, Uber seems to think so.

Earlier this week, the ridesharing app solidified a $200 million purchase of Jump, a dockless e-bike service. The humble bicycle has somehow become hot.

But like most things Uber does, there is an obvious reason for the move, and another, more subtle one. As the company expands its range of offerings, from the now-familiar ride-hailing app to freight, self-driving cars, and now e-bikes, it’s increasingly clear that its goal is not to become a vehicle company. Instead, it’s something much more ambitious: An Amazon for transportation.

That isn’t to say the e-bike is a mere stepping stone. Across the globe, the bicycle and its electrified companion are quietly making waves. In China, for example, cycling has reduced the costs associated with congestion by $2.6 billion as a slew of bike share startups have emerged. In the U.S., regulators are finding ways to let e-bikes into existing bike lanes to ease their adoption. Around the world, bike shares are growing at a rapid rate.

It may seem odd that the bicycle, a decidedly 19th-century invention, is becoming cool once again. But it makes a great deal of sense. Transportation is often plagued by a last mile problem: the fact that a trip from one’s home to a subway or bus stop can be just long enough to discourage walking. A bicycle gives people the option to not own a car but still be able to get to a grocery store, train station, or friend’s place without having to walk the whole way — filling a niche that could make bicycles a significant part of our transportation infrastructure.

As prominent tech analyst Horace Dediu argues, “bikes will eat cars” because they are more flexible. They are part of what he calls “micromobility,” a solution for those aforementioned short trips. Bikes can be carried on a train or bus, or ridden down alleys or gridlocked streets, and they are cheap to purchase and maintain. They are the solution for all those in-between situations when a destination is just a bit too far too to walk, but — especially in urban environments where parking is limited and traffic is common — driving is more trouble than it’s worth.

For its part, Jump offers bikes that can be left locked to existing bike racks or the appropriate street furniture. The bikes are also electric-assist, meaning that while they are still pedal-powered they also feature a supplementary electric motor. Riders can thus avoid breaking a sweat while going up hills — an important plus for commuters who are heading into work or even a first date.

For Uber, however, the purchase is about thinking bigger. Acquiring Jump allows the company to offer one more choice for consumers looking to get around without owning a car: For short trips in good weather, there are Jump’s bikes; for longer trips, or those that require some storage or cover, there are cars waiting to be hailed on the Uber …read more

Source:: The Week – Business


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