The debut of electric bike and scooter rentals on Canadian streets is one of Uber Canada’s top priorities for 2019, a year in which it also plans to expand its alcohol delivery services and double the headcount at its self-driving technology lab in Toronto.
Canadian managers for the San Francisco-based ride-sharing and delivery company outlined their plans for the year at Uber’s downtown Toronto office on Monday.
While they didn’t reveal exactly when or where e-scooters or e-bikes will launch in Canada, Uber Canada general manager Rob Khazzam said it will likely happen this year. Khazzam said there’s a clear market opportunity for e-bikes and e-scooters to help move people around in cities grappling with congestion.
“Solving congestion in cities like Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver is not going to be a silver bullet issue, it’s going to be something that we need multiple strategies to tackle,” he said.
Last year, Uber bought Jump, a New York e-scooter and e-bike company that has launched services in more than a dozen U.S. cities. It also partnered with Lime, a California-based scooter share service, to enable rentals through either the Uber or the Lime app.
E-scooter and e-bike rental apps operate similarly to bike share services, charging users a nominal unlocking fee and then by the minute. They are dockless, meaning riders can leave them wherever they end a trip as long as they’re in a designated zone.
The services have started to proliferate in the United States, particularly in warmer climates, as an efficient way to make short trips. Scooter companies Lime and Bird have both raised hundreds of millions of dollars and are valued at a few billion dollars.
Yet the technology is less tested north of the border. In October, Lime held an e-scooter pilot project in Waterloo, Ont. that saw more than 6,000 riders take more than 18,000 trips over a nine-week period, according to the city. The second phase of the pilot continues this spring.
Solving congestion in cities like Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver is not going to be a silver bullet issue, it’s going to be something that we need multiple strategies to tackle.
Uber Canada’s Rob Khazzam
Introducing e-bikes and e-scooters to Canada will require nuance given the winter weather conditions, Khazzam said. Uber is evaluating what areas of a city it will launch in, along with what times of year electric vehicles will be available, he said.
“For us to get people to get rid of their cars, and to improve the state of our cities and our infrastructure, we need to provide a suite of really compelling options that are focused specifically on the use case,” he said.
Safety is also a major consideration when it comes to e-bikes and scooters, which can travel up to 25 kilometres per hour. Management emphasized that safety remains Uber’s top priority across the organization.
On the food delivery side of Uber’s operations, Uber Eats plans to expand the alcohol delivery service it launched in Vancouver last year, general manager Dan Park said, adding it makes sense to pair food delivery with wine and beer. It is looking to expand first in Ontario and Quebec where partnerships with the LCBO and the SAQ will be critical, he said.
Uber also plans to expand its self-driving technology lab in Toronto, which currently employs about 50 people. That will double, Uber Advanced Technology Group chief scientist Raquel Urtasun said.
The lab is creating a high-definition mapping tool that will enable self-driving cars to navigate streets safely.