Has Uber Really Grown Up?

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has already been at the helm for a year and recently Fortune posted an editorial called Uber is Finally Growing Up.

In reading between the lines, it does seem that the company is no longer spiraling out of control. In the past month, a number of stories have been posted talking about Uber’s new directions.

For example, Khosrowshahi recently told the Financial Times that plans are in place to switch focus from cars to more of its electric scooter and bike share business. He said that these alternative modes of transport are better suited to inner city travel for 10 blocks than a car.

Uber has added e-bikes to its app in eight US cities and soon Berlin, Germany. Earlier this year, Uber bought Jump, a bikeshare company, for $200 million and invested (along with Alphabet) $335 million in Lime, an electric scooter start-up.

Obviously, the company will earn less per mile with scooters or bikes but are making a bet that users will then have more cash to spend on longer car rides using Ubers.

This emphasis on bikes and scooters though was announced in the same week that Toyota planned to invest $500,000 into Uber’s Autonomous Vehicle (AV) division. The partnership will bring mobility as a service or MaaS AV ridesharing to market. The fleet will use Toyota’s Sienna minivan platform with the company’s Guardian safety technology and Uber’s AV system.

Under Khosrowshahi leadership the emphasis has changed concerning the drive to develop its own driverless fleet. After the March 18 tragic death of an Arizona pedestrian hit by a driverless but manned Uber, the company has backed off its idea of owning and operating its own self-driving fleet but instead has become open to licensing or partnering with other companies.  Thus, the Toyota deal.

In the past two months, Uber has been taking a number of other directions as well.

In July, the company announced that it would stop development on Otto, its self-driving truck project. Instead its Advanced Technologies Group would shift its entire driverless car focus to well, cars.

Japan recently announced that Uber along with Boeing, Airbus and 18 other public and private entities would become part of a consortium to define a role for the country in the future of flying cars, especially in the areas of legislation and regulation. Japan wants to have a flying car fleet ready to roll in the next decade.

Uber has also started working with the University of Texas at Austin and US Army Research Labs to help develop new rotor technology for its flying cars. By 2020, Uber plans to test drive these cars of the future in Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Dubai. The plan is to launch commercially in the same cities by 2023.

In the meantime, Uber is getting involved with other special interest groups in pushing for a $12.00 congestion tax for vehicles entering Manhattan. The company is giving $1 million to the cause and feels that comprehensive congestion pricing could help tackle both congestion and help fix the beleaguered NYC subway at the same time. This is Uber’s way of discouraging individual car ownership and increasing dependence on ridesharing companies.

In August, the NYC council imposed a one-year moratorium on new licenses for rideshare vehicles as well as a minimum rideshare driver wage. Too many drivers have created too much congestion on NYC streets and the council wants to study the issue further.

Interestingly enough, Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing car companies are creating more traffic headaches for not only motorists but cities as well because people prefer to take rideshare rather than riding the subway or bus.  The Seattle Times recently reported that in 2017, Uber and Lyft increased car miles driven by 94 million with a total of 20 million car share rides.

Maybe Uber has grown up but do we like the company that disrupted like a weed in a sidewalk and is now morphing into a voluntary tree in the sidewalk pushing up the concrete?

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