Technology’s next disruption of Austin’s transportation system has arrived in the form of dockless bikes. And this time, heavyweights in the transportation industry are butting in.
Uber, the brand known for its automobile ride-hailing service, on Monday launched a bike sharing program in Austin, placing 250 dockless, electric-powered bikes throughout a downtown area already swarmed with similar transportation-sharing offerings.
Operating under the name Jump Bikes, Uber’s service will compete in an increasingly crowded shared services market that has been ramping up ever since dockless, electric scooters started appearing in downtown areas around the country months ago.
“Having different modes of transportation is exactly the future of where we want to go,” Uber spokesman Trevor Theunissen said of the Jump Bikes startup, which is based in New York and which Uber bought in April. “Our CEO says quite frequently that he wants to be the Amazon of transportation.”
Customers can rent the bikes through Uber’s main ride-hailing phone app, the Jump Bikes app, or by punching their phone numbers into a keypad on the bike. Either method loosens a lock that attaches to any bike rack around the city.
The bikes, which cost $2 for a 30-minute ride and then 7 cents per minute thereafter, go up to 20 mph. While customers have to peddle, the bikes provide electric-powered boosts that make the effort easier.
Once finished, riders must find another bike rack on which to lock the bikes. Bikes can be held for up to an hour while not being used, and charges on the bikes last about 25 miles before Jump Bikes workers have to take them back to a service center to be re-charged.
Uber’s bike launch comes roughly two months after scooter companies began operating in Austin.
Electric scooter startups Bird and Lime entered markets around the U.S months ago much in the same way Uber and Lyft entered them years ago - by beginning their service without notice and to the surprise of city governments.
Austin’s first major taste of shared bikes arrived in 2013 with the city’s B-Cycle system, rental bikes that continue to be docked at stations around Austin.
Since then, options for shared vehicles have only continued to increase. Ofo, a chinese dockless bike sharing firm, recently placed many of its yellow bikes in Austin. GOAT, a texas-based scooter startup, also recently launched in Austin. Additionally, Lyft, which announced Monday that it is buying bike share operator Motivate, may also be poised to enter the local market.
In Austin, City Council members swiftly approved new rules in April that forced scooter and bike companies to acquire permits before being able to operate their products on Austin streets. The rules, which started May 1, will run for six months before City Council re-examines the impact of dockless vehicles around downtown.
Transportation experts have long predicted that urban roadways could eventually be connected by a system where people use shared services to get to where they’re going.
While new companies appear to be entering the dockless market on seemingly a daily basis, experts say that’s the usual process for new sectors in the tech world, such as when ride-hailing began in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
“The space gets a little crowed at first,” said Nathan Shipley, a transportation analyst with New York-based research firm The NPD Group. “But typically, there are one or two that stand out, and the most powerful company will win out.”
Uber has its sights set on doing that through Jump Bikes, Theunissen said, aiming to repeat the success it’s seen in ride-hailing. Theunissen said Uber’s hope is for its app to eventually plan out trips for customers that include the use of Uber cars, public transit and shared single-person vehicles like the bikes. Uber also wants to one day have electric charging stations placed around city blocks.
In addition to its bikes, Jump Bikes is also working on launching a shared scooter program.
The startup, which operates in San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Washington D.C., and also launched in Chicago Monday, said it has seen a positive turnout from its product, with each of its bikes averaging five to six trips per day.
Dave Nelson, the director of operations at Jump Bikes, said his firm will embrace the competition.
“We think that competition bears great fruit,” Nelson said. “It’s pretty clear that the old, docked models really don’t have the flexibility and mobility, and capital costs in investing in those systems is just too great for the benefit that they provide.
“(Competition) is growing pains, the way we see it. I think it’s an absolutely necessary part of the process.”