Prepare for the on-demand generation, Uber exec says

St. LOUIS — Customer booking windows are tightening and the motorcoach industry needs to respond, an executive with on-demand ride-sharing company Uber told the luncheon audience during UMA Motorcoach Expo.

“Being ready to handle that is going to be key to future success,” Josh Mohrer, general manager of Uber’s New York metropolitan-area business, said in offering ideas for the bus industry.

“Being ready for the on-demand generation,” Mohrer said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean five minutes and you’re ready, but definitely the day before.”

Uber knows a thing or two about the on-demand ride-sharing industry, offering millions of daily rides in 70 countries since its 2010 start in San Francisco. Its technology platform connects people who need rides with those who provide them.

“Are we going to be moving into the space?” he said. “The answer is no, I don’t see us doing that. We’re not going to compete against you, you don’t have to worry about that. I think there’s a big opportunity for this, though. Someone’s going to do it, I don’t think it’s going to be us.”  

Customers can request an Uber ride by entering their destination on a smartphone; seeing available rides; tapping a button to request the ride; watching the vehicle approach on a map; seeing the driver’s picture and make, model and license number of their vehicle; and having their credit card charged automatically at the ride’s conclusion.

Before introducing Mohrer, then-UMA President and CEO Vic Parra reflected on what he called a convergence between the time a trip is booked and it is taken, a window that has narrowed from months to weeks to sometimes even hours.

“How are we going to deal with this when we’re having the Millennials making decisions, saying, ‘Hey, let’s go to this concert tonight,’” and 20 people seek a shared ride, Parra said.

Other ideas Mohrer offered to the motorcoach industry included being where your customers are, which is online, the first place they search for rides and where they book; and being ready to try new things, even if they might sound a little crazy, which is exactly what led to Uber’s success.

Mohrer spent about 20 minutes sharing Uber’s story and vision for the future before offering his motorcoach industry ideas and taking questions.

One listener asked if Uber for motorcoaches was coming. Mohrer said he doubted it, noting that Uber’s trips are usually within a city as opposed to those provided by motorcoaches, which offer many longer-haul trips.

“Are we going to be moving into the space?” he said. “The answer is no, I don’t see us doing that. We’re not going to compete against you, you don’t have to worry about that. I think there’s a big opportunity for this, though. Someone’s going to do it, I don’t think it’s going to be us.”

In response to another question, he explained UberBlack, the commercially licensed, more upscale service offered in most bigger cities in parallel with the UberX platform familiar to most riders.

“Fleet partners are a common thing on UberBlack,” he said. “It’s created a really great opportunity for folks to expand their business.”

In response to another question, Mohrer defended Uber’s safety, from local, state and federal background checks on drivers to $1 million in insurance coverage on every ride, to ride-share regulations in 35 states.

Safety is a priority, he said.

“People aren’t going to use the service if they don’t feel safe,” he said, citing Uber’s popularity. Uber’s technology, which tracks the ride and driver every step of the way, makes Uber “the safest ride on the road.”

Since Mohrer’s speech at Expo, Massachusetts has announced that thousands of drivers for Uber and Lyft, a competing company, failed to pass state background checks (See story on Page 4).

In painting a picture of Uber’s vision, Mohrer said more ridesharing would reduce road congestion, pollution and driver stress and open up areas now used for parking to be converted to schools, parks or housing.

“This is our ultimate hope for the future, that we can turn every journey into a shared journey using a combination of ridesharing and mass transit – and that people will choose to use these services because sharing will be a cheaper and more convenient alternative to individual car ownership,” Mohrer said.

Calling mass urbanization a defining trend of this generation and noting the advantages of living in cities, he added that by embracing shared modes of transportation, “we can make all cities less congested and polluted, with more space for people and parks.”

Uber serves as an extension of public transit around the world, Mohrer noted, citing increased Uber use near train or bus stops.

“By complementing existing mass-transit systems, we’re able to extend their reach at no cost to the taxpayer,” he said.

When London launched late-night service on its transit system, Uber noticed a drop in rides from the city center and more trips near subway stations, “which points to the reality that people are using Uber as a last mile to extend public transportation – and transportation industries around the country are noticing,” he said.

People who rideshare are less likely to own a car and more likely to ride a train or bus, which is why transportation agencies are looking to Uber for help with some of their toughest challenges, he said.

He cited the city of Summit, N.J., which is working with Uber to offer rides to and from its train station, which is about 25 miles from Manhattan.

Uber has proven it can reliably and affordably serve an entire city, which is key since people will only give up their cars if they have affordable and reliable alternatives to individual car ownership, Mohrer said.

Uber had a breakthrough a few years ago when engineers noticed a lot of duplicate rides of people going to the same place at the same time, even though they didn’t know each other, he said. Uber wondered if it could use its technology to match people in real time, producing one ride instead of two or three.

“We like to say we’re the first company that’s made 1 plus 1 plus 1 equal 1,” he said.

Matching up riders would be good for them because a shared ride is cheaper, good for drivers because they would have more time with paying passengers in their car, and good for cities by getting more people into fewer cars, he said.

“The question is, would people choose to carpool with strangers for a discount?” Mohrer said. “The answer was a resounding yes, because sharing isn’t the issue, it’s pricing (and) convenience that matters most to people.”

UberPool emerged and in cities that have it, more than a third of passengers are choosing to share their ride rather than riding alone, he said.

In the last year, UberPool has reduced miles driven by 312 million, saved 6.2 million gallons of fuel and reduced carbon emissions by more than 55,000 metric tons, Mohrer said.

“This is a big deal and probably only the beginning,” he said.

Today, ridesharing accounts for less than 4 percent of miles driven globally, but is predicted to reach 25 percent by 2030, he said.

“A better future is within our grasp, one where people share rides and take public transit simply because it’s a better option than owning a car,” Mohrer said.

As self-driving cars take root, cities that embrace ridesharing now will be have a natural advantage when it comes to self-driving, partly because individually owned self-driving cars will create the same congestion challenges as cars today, he said.

“So we need to get people used to leaving their cars at home sooner rather than later, or better still, not buy one at all,” he said.

Because self-driving cars will be expensive early on, “sharing them across multiple passengers will help reduce the cost of rides, ensuring that technology is adopted more quickly,” Mohrer said.

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