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Uber launches electric scooter service

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The addition of Jump scooters in Santa Monica seeks to bolster company’s shift to promoting car-free options

Uber just launched its first electric scooter service in Santa Monica, California, an important part of the company’s wider shift to encourage car-free transit.
Uber/Jump

The city of Santa Monica, California has welcomed a new competitor to its scooter-filled streets. Jump scooters, a new service owned and operated by ride-hailing giant Uber, will officially begin operating Wednesday morning, after a soft launch Monday afternoon.

The fleet of 250 cherry red dockless electric scooters, the first such Uber-operated vehicles to hit the street, joins 500 similarly branded Jump electric-bikes already in operation.

Uber is using this trial to showcase its recent commitment to sustainable mobility and car-free transit, and catch up with the micromobility revolution pioneered by companies such as Bird.

The company hopes to show that by integrating cars-for-hire, electric bikes, and scooters in the same service, it can provide more efficient, and environmentally sound, transportation.

“Our overall strategy is to make Uber into a mobility platform,” says Rhea Dookeran, Uber’s Los Angeles-based senior product manager for scooters. “The base thesis is in order to viably replace personal car ownership, people need to have choice.”

Uber/Jump

Uber will be rolling out the same variety of Ninebot scooters being utilized by its competitors, including Lime, Bird, and Lyft, which already operates scooters in Santa Monica and plans to offer a similar suite of car/bike/scooter services. An update to the Lyft app also gives real-time transit information for people in Santa Monica.

To encourage riders to try Jump in an already-crowded scooter marketplace, Uber will offer free rides through October 7. Users will be limited to five 30-minute trips per day.

Moving towards a more multimodal Uber

People with the Uber app on their phone who are in Santa Monica can now access scooters using the updated app, with a new option that will allow riders to toggle between modes.

Like Jump bikes, nearby scooters can be booked before users get close enough to unlock them, and if, on the way to retrieve a vehicle, another scooter shows up that’s closer, the app will let riders switch.

unlike the teams of contract workers being used by rivals, Uber will also be utilizing an in-house workforce, based in a central warehouse, to charge, repair, and pick up scooters. Dookeran feels better maintenance and operations will improve the overall user experience, leading to less scooters with drained batteries and visible damage on the street.

Uber is competing with three other vendors as part of Santa Monica’s shared mobility pilot program, an 18-month trial that kicked off September 17 to evaluate potential regulations and determine which companies will be granted long-term licenses.

Lyft, Lime, and Bird, the hometown startup led by Travis VanderZanden, a former Uber and Lyft executive, are also participating.

The mode-switch function on the updated Uber app.
Uber

This isn’t Uber’s first investment into dockless scooters: the company previously announced a partnership with Lime in July, and still plans to integrate the company’s vehicles into its app at a later date.

“At the forefront in a shift in the way cities move”

Right now, scooter integration is fairly basic. The Uber app provides distance and walking time to available scooters, but doesn’t offer trip comparisons showing if a ride on a bike or scooter may be faster than one in a car.

Dookeran says Uber plans to constantly iterate and add that kind of comparative information over time.

The ultimate goal is to be able to show the quickest route, even if it’s multimodal: take a scooter to meet up with an UberPool that’ll take you to the train station, and then pick up a scooter waiting for you at another station to reach your destination.

“Last-mile transit is key,” Dookeran says. “Our ultimate goal is to get you there in the most cost-effective way.”

Eventually, Uber would also provide a more direct link with transit. A recent partnership with Masabi, a mobile transit startup, aims to eventually integrate transit ticketing in the Uber app. One day, Dookeran says, you would be able to ride a scooter to a train station and scan the Uber app at the turnstile to pay.

Uber’s new integration with Jump scooters allows riders to reserve nearby rides.
Uber/Jump

Dookeran, part of the company’s new mobility team, sees Santa Monica as a testing ground for the company’s future expansion. She said scooters will rolling out soon in other cities. Uber also has plans to create their own hardware, but Dookeran couldn’t share any additional details.

This move dovetails with the planned expansion of the Jump bike service beyond the 10 cities where it’s already available, including adding electric charging racks like the company is installing Sacramento. (Adding a charging rack to Santa Monica is under consideration, with no firm date.)

Dookeran also added that Uber/Jump plans to expand only in cities where they’re welcomed and proactively working with city officials. Along with the embrace of car-free transit, this collaborative approach underlines the sizable shifts in strategy from Uber’s earlier, more free-wheeling interactions with local regulators.

“It definitely feels like we’re at the forefront in a shift in the way cities move,” she says. “We think there’s no better company to do this than Uber.”