While Uber’s self-driving car endeavors may have been put on hold following a pedestrian fatality in Arizona last month, the company is continuing to expand from its ride-hailing roots at a rapid pace. After launching its dockless bike-sharing initiative Uber Bike in January, the company announced it would be acquiring its electric bike–providing partner Jump earlier this week. Now, the company is embarking on a new venture: a peer-to-peer car rental service called Uber Rent.
Like its bike-sharing program, Uber Rent will debut in San Francisco before rolling out to other metropolitan areas. Also like Uber Bike, the service is made possible thanks to a partnership with another startup—Getaround, which lets you rent cars from other people in your area for as little as $5 per hour. Cars can also be rented by the day. “At Uber, we want to bring together multiple modes of transportation right in our app so we can give riders a viable alternative to personal car ownership,” Jahan Khanna, Uber’s head of mobility product, said in a statement. In 2015, Uber founder and then-CEO Travis Kalanick had said that replacing car ownership was Uber’s end goal.
Between Uber’s traditional suite of ride-hailed vehicles, Uber Bike, and Uber Rent, the company now has a multifaceted solution for those who don’t own a car. For short trips, such as the jaunt between the train station and your office, you can hop on an Uber Bike to skip the traffic (and give yourself a brief, healthy bout of exercise). For midlength trips, you can order an Uber, allowing you to arrive at your destination without personally dealing with parking, traffic, or navigation. And for day trips, weekend adventures, or times when you’d rather be behind the wheel, you’ve now got Uber Rent to fill the void. These options not only make the idea of abandoning car ownership more realistic for city dwellers, who’ve had the benefit of public transportation and taxis for decades, they could eventually make it viable for those living in suburbs and more sprawling metropolitan areas, too.
Uber’s recent expansions also give it a leg up against its biggest U.S. competitor, Lyft, which shares its aim of reducing car ownership. For the past few months, both ride-share companies have been investing heavily in autonomous driving technology in order to achieve that goal. Lyft announced its self-driving division last July and forged a partnership with Google’s Waymo to bring autonomous vehicles to the public more rapidly. Google’s parent company Alphabet returned the favor with a $1 billion investment round in Lyft in October. Uber has been involved in the self-driving car game for longer: It began its efforts in late 2016 following the acquisition of autonomous truck startup Otto. But while Lyft’s efforts—from a public perspective, at least—have been relatively smooth-sailing, Uber’s have been fraught with difficulties: an intellectual property lawsuit with Waymo over stolen proprietary technologies; the loss of its self-driving testing permit in California; a collision last month in Pittsburgh and other earlier accidents in San Francisco; and last month’s fatal accident with a pedestrian, the first involving a self-driving car platform.
Uber has wisely taken a step back from its autonomous car efforts for now, but it hasn’t given up on its goals of ending car ownership—or attempting to beat its main rival with whatever means it has left. Its Getaround partnership is an important step on both fronts: It gives ride-share users more reasons to turn to Uber’s app rather than competitors, and it elevates Uber from a mere taxi cab replacement to an all-encompassing alternative transportation provider. If the launch goes well—and Uber can help Getaround scale to multiple cities—the company will have a new swath of competitors beyond Lyft, including Zipcar and traditional rental car companies like Alamo or Hertz. Uber is giving its users the freedom to get to their destination their own way: On two wheels or four, in the back seat or behind the wheel. Time will tell if it reduces car ownership, but regardless, it makes Uber a bigger force to reckon with.