There has been an enormous amount of attention and money poured into Uber, but is it possible that the company could be even better?
Maybe so. Perhaps we could better serve people who live in cities today but aren’t yet using the service by making a few simple improvements.
- Switch to electric cars. This one’s a no-brainer.
- Broaden access beyond those with smartphones. Simple payment cards could improve access and increase the usable payment methods available to consumers. It could even be an easy way of enabling gifting of rides, or a discount for purchasing bulk rides. And of course you’d want to accept Apple Pay and Google Pay and all the other modern systems.
- Set up ride-sharing stations. This would increase the efficiency of pooling rides, plus it would be good for a community by bringing people together. Drivers would have increased predictability about where to find riders.
- Start using smart cars that can connect to each other. It will take a while to switch entirely to driverless cars, but perhaps one driver could be responsible for several linked cars. If executed just right, it might hit the sweet spot of safety combined with efficiency, especially if drivers followed defined routes that increase the predictability of operational costs for the cars.
- Radically decrease cost. Once we get the economies of scale that come from high ride capacity and far fewer drivers, it should be possible to dramatically cut the price per ride. Imagine being able to ride share with your neighbors for less than the price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks. And of course, we’d want to eliminate the expense, inefficiency and unpredictability of tipping.
- Make it a market. Prices could be driven down even further if targeted brand messages were brought into cars and ride sharing stations. One can even imagine subsidizing the stations by allowing contextual commerce. Why wait for Amazon Prime when a kiosk could offer a candy bar right where you wait? And non-smartphone users could rely on the stations to purchase access cards.
- Build a smart apps platform on top of it. Once you get massive adoption of this high-scale platform, people will want to know where the closest ride-sharing station is, and when the next ride arrives. It’s easy to imagine a robust economy of third-party developers providing this information in ways that integrate with maps, shopping apps, and more. Apple Maps recently added transit directions, and this could be a perfect fit.
- Increase car capacity. This one is radical, but if ride-sharing stations take off, the number of people riding in a car could be boosted well past SUV capacity, or maybe even more than a bus carries. Imagine dozens of people sitting in a spacious “super car”, or hundreds in a chained series of mostly-driverless cars. There’s been some research done on this already, which shows that a system of guided tracks can help keep connected cars moving quickly without compromising safety.
- Ensure equal access. One of the biggest challenges to this kind of improved ride sharing would be mandating equity of access. Careful policy choices about the location of ride sharing stations, combined with focused oversight from those experienced in transit planning and city planning, could have enormous impact. It’s even possible to imagine such a transport system being run in conjunction with municipal authorities.
- Get these cars off the road. Okay, this one sounds like a “moon shot”, but bear with me. Imagine if we took these trains of high-capacity, low-cost, mostly-driverless electric super cars and put the trains and the ride-sharing stations underground? Immediately we clear a ton of traffic from the road, we take advantage of space that wouldn’t otherwise be used, and we end up sheltered from the elements.
Together, we can achieve Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s dream of nobody having to own a private car.