Unlike Marmite, it seems possible to both love and hate Uber at the same time.
Uber's contradictions are becoming as famous as its world beating service model. It solved perhaps the biggest problem taxi drivers face - fare dodgers - and yet it's hated by taxi drivers like the plague.
It has become one of the biggest transport-providers in the world and according to the BBC in 2018, it saw a 24% increase in revenues and a 37% rise in gross bookings. However it still registered an adjusted loss - following a tax benefit - of some $1.8bn.
As it gears up for its first public shares offering this month, we take a look at the world beating App that is going public in more ways than one.
- Launched in March 2009 as Ubercab
- Ubercab connects its first driver in July 2010; rebranded in October
- Global passenger numbers of 15 million a day, compared to eight million on all the world’s airlines
- Around 100 million people use the app every month
- Global daily average of around 25 passengers per car
- 10 billion trips since launch
- Plans to launch its first public share offering this month with a valuation of $120bn.
Fred Jones, director for Uber UK, says: ‘Average users in a car in UK is just a shade over one. There is a lot of empty spaces and there is a lot of cars making single journeys. Over 20% of worlds emissions today come from transportation. Cars spend most of their time sitting empty - about 95%. In central London today about 16% of land is dedicated to parking. Think about the pressures on housing and green space.
‘Uber’s vision for the future is we want to move from individual cars and individual users making individual trips to a world where we combine multiple modes of transport together in a seamless way. We believe that only by combining lots of different modes of transportation can you really compete with the ease and reliability of having your own car.’
The plan is built around three key pillars: increasing shared modes of transport, increasing electrification and zero emission, and multi-modal transport.
Car sharing and going electric
Car sharing service Uber Pool was initially launched in 2014 and operates globally in about 40 cities completing around one billion trips so far.
‘When you get two people sharing a car, three pretty awesome things happen. Firstly you can split the fare, secondly the driver makes more money and the third thing is you are replacing the need for an extra car.’
Uber has identified the long-term benefits of switching to an electric fleet and just as cities are implementing charging zones to improve air quality, Uber has developed a way of paying for it.
Mr Jones says: ‘In London we launched the clean air plan. In central London, a 15p surcharge is added to every mile we collect that and give 100% to the driver to help them purchase an electric vehicle. We estimate that is going to generate between £200m - £250m over the next five years and will go directly to purchasing electric vehicles in London.
‘We are also doing a lot of work with our data to understand what and where to put charging.’
Mr Jones says: ‘There are some cities in the US that are considering Uber as, for a fraction of the cost of traditional services, they could fund a point to point Uber ride.’
In Denver in the US, Uber launched an integration of public transport into the app, showing transport options.
‘The incredible thing about this is more often than not it is quicker and faster to get public transport and in Denver you could purchase your ticket as well in conjunction with our ticketing partner Masabi.’
Last year, this mobile ticketing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) service announced a new strategic partnership with Uber to add public transit mobile ticketing into the Uber app.
Uber and derived demand
Data analysis conducted by Uber also shows its connection to the transport authority’s services in subtler ways, demonstrated by the London Night Tube service.
Mr Jones says: ‘Frankly we didn’t know what the impact would be. Clearly the Tube would be cheaper. We saw in the six weeks after the night tube a really big decrease in people requesting an Uber in the centre of town but we saw a corresponding increase in stops at the end of the line.
'So people would take the Tube to get close to their home but would use Uber for the last mile. And over time we saw that overall trips increased – so we were seeing who previously never went out maybe because of cost or unsure of getting home take trips out now they could combine Uber and the Tube. So effectively Uber was extending public infrastructure at no cost to the taxpayer and this was purely organic behaviour.’
Data analysis like this is something Uber can also help cities with through the free to use Uber Movement, tool.
‘It aggregates and shares our data in a compliant manner. The first iteration of our tool does point to point journey times. When there have been road works you can see how the ripple effect went across London and impacted journey times miles away. Through that tool we have built new data sets. Using data, we can analyse everything from sharp breaking and junction design, to even potholes.’
Last year Uber acquired the electric dockless bike-sharing service Jump.
Mr Jones says the move was a risk: ‘We didn’t know how this would go down. The first thing we saw was that peak time for bikes was during the day when congestion was at its height, whereas the key time for Uber cars is early morning or late at night. So there is a natural complementary nature between the two types, which is good if you want to provide a one-stop mobility shop.
‘The second thing we saw is that during those busy times of day when congestion was at its peak we saw people stop taking cars and took bikes instead and we saw that overall the people who did that made far more trips. So engagement with the service increased, which is really powerful when you think about trying to change behaviours.’
That of course is the key issue here. The car itself is no longer the driver of social or behaviour change or personal mobility. The baton – before it is eventually handed back to driverless cars, something else Uber is investing in – has been handed to the phone and its ability to revolutionise the mobility market.