Uber's new training wheels: testing bike sharing in San Francisco

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For the first time in Uber’s history, the company is offering rides on roads in the United States using something other than cars. Starting next week, it will let certain users in San Francisco reserve pedal-assist electric bicycles through its app. The idea is that people will see the bicycles as a cheaper and faster alternative — not a huge stretch of the imagination for anyone who has been stuck in Friday evening gridlock in San Francisco.

Uber is not supplying its own bicycles. It is working with Jump Bikes, a bike-sharing service that secured a permit in January to put 250 motorized bicycles — making it easier to tackle San Francisco’s steep hills — in locations throughout the city.

“We’re excited about the future of bike sharing in the Uber app, and this is the first step,” said Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s head of transportation policy and research.

The pilot program is the latest indication of Uber’s ambitions to move beyond its ride-hailing origins. It is also working on autonomous trucking services, while aggressively expanding into the fast-growing food delivery market with Uber Eats.

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Uber said it saw the bicycles as yet another option for riders — alongside carpooling and rides on the less expensive Uber X or the pricier Uber Black. The company declined to detail whether the San Francisco test is a prelude to a bike-sharing service in other locations.

Unlike the rows of Ford GoBikes available around the Bay Area or Citi Bikes, which have designated pickup and drop-off locations, Jump bikes are left on the sidewalk — attached to a public bike rack or (hopefully) out of the way of pedestrians — once riders reach their destination. That’s convenient, but cities such as Dallas are grappling with how to deal with bikes left wherever riders feel like abandoning them.

Uber said its app would present selected users with a “bike” option in a drop-down menu. From there, the customer could reserve a bicycle and be charged $2 for 30 minutes and then a per-minute fee after that.

Uber will target people who often travel within the areas of the city where the bikes are available, while allowing other customers to join a waitlist for the service, the company said. With 250 bikes, Uber said, it expects to serve “thousands” of people, but it declined to get more specific.

Daisuke Wakabayashi is a New York Times writer.

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