Uber is adding public transportation schedules and directions to its app in London. Starting today, London residents who open the Uber app and punch in their destination — expecting to see just ride-hail options — will now also get time and cost comparison, plus point-to-point directions for taking that same trip with London’s many public transportation options. It’s part of Uber’s broader effort to become a one-stop shop for all modes of transportation.
The ride-hail company first introduced in-app public transportation pricing, schedules, and directions in Denver, Colorado, earlier this year. London is now the second city to receive the feature, though Uber hopes to eventually roll it out in many other cities in the months ahead.
Uber’s app will feature real-time London Underground and bus information, as well as train, tram, shuttle, river boat, light rail, and commuter rail service across Greater London. Uber users cannot purchase subway and bus fare in the app yet, though Uber plans on offering that capability at a later date.
“London is home to the world’s most iconic public transport network, and we’re excited to now provide live transit information in the Uber app,” said Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, in a statement. “Over time, it’s our goal to help people replace their car with their phone by offering a range of mobility options — whether cars, bikes or public transport — all in the Uber app.”
Uber has a complicated relationship with regulators in London. In 2017, the city’s transportation authority revoked Uber’s license to operate, citing numerous safety concerns. Uber won back a probationary license last June that requires an independently verified audit of its own operations every six months.
The city is also moving to crack down on pollution and congestion. Last month, the Transport for London ruled that private for-hire vehicles, including Uber, would no longer be exempt from the £11.50 daily congestion charge for driving in central London. Only zero-emission vehicles will still be exempt from paying the fee.
The integration of London’s transit information is happening at a time when Uber is facing mounting criticism for its negative effects on public transportation in the US. Declining bus and subway ridership has been pegged to the rise of Uber’s popularity in dozens of cities. The company hopes to blunt that criticism by giving transit equal footing in its app.
The problem is that many experts see Uber as being in direct competition with public transportation. In fact, the company admitted as much in its S-1 filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that is required as part of Uber’s plan to become a publicly traded company. Uber described public transportation as part of its “total addressable market,” a term it defined as what it can tackle over the long term. In addition, under the section listing “risk factors,” Uber outlines its many competitors, including “public transportation, which typically provides the lowest-cost transportation option in many cities.”
The language was a shift from how Uber had talked publicly for years about being a complement to public transit. In its updated filing, Uber largely eliminated references to competing with public transportation.
By integrating public transportation into its app, Uber acknowledges it is indirectly encouraging its customers to use a mode of transportation from which the company does not directly take in revenue. But Uber obviously benefits from training its customers to use its app over all the other apps that purport to be one-stop shops for transportation, like Transit, Citymapper, various e-scooter apps, and — of course — its main rival Lyft.