- Uber launched a new app feature for its Boston-area customers this week that aims to encourage more public transit ridership by automatically highlighting nearby transit stations with real-time status updates.
- In June, the company first introduced Boston's transit information to its app, allowing customers to select transit from its menu options after a destination is determined. This new update automatically displays transit options once the app is opened to further encourage transit use. "What this does is it tries to put transit in front of you from the get-go," Harry Hartfield, communications manager at Uber, told Smart Cities Dive.
- Boston is the first U.S. city to test this update, and the feature has also been rolled out in London. Hartfield did not disclose other cities that may get the update in the future.
While the new feature in Boston is a minor change to the existing transit information already offered, including arrival times and routing, Uber believes it can have a significant impact on a customers' relationship with public transit — and with the Uber app.
"Dara [Khosrowshahi, Uber's CEO] has been pretty clear that we view ourselves, or we want to be viewed, as the Amazon of transportation," Hartfield said. He explained that using the app to enhance public transit offerings can further position Uber as a "one-stop shop for transportation." Uber's app already shows availability of Jump bikes and scooters, as well as Lime scooters, in markets where the vehicles are available.
And while pushing people toward public transit may seem counterintuitive for Uber's business, Hartfield assured it's a strategic way for the company to build sustainable relationships in transit-focused cities.
"We are actually most successful in places that have really good mass transit systems," he said. "If there's a really good mass transit system, you're not going to buy a car." He noted that this is the same reason Uber was a large backer of New York City's congestion pricing plan. "When the subway works, it's better for us."
Uber's efforts to position itself as a broader mobility app also keeps it competitive with Lyft, which has made strides to connect its customers with options outside of ride-hailing. In September 2019, Lyft issued a sweeping app update to offer all users information on available bikes, scooters, public transit, car rentals and shared rides. Lyft shares a similar vision with Uber to offer an all-in-one mobility app.