It has been ten years since Uber was founded (then named UberCab), and almost seven years since Lyft came on to the scene (then named Zimride). In these intervening years, they have helped disrupt and transform their industry to the state of on-demand mobility we see today.
As you may very well know, in recent weeks Lyft, the ride-hailing rival of Uber, announced plans for an IPO that is expected to raise some $2bn, and subsequently Uber is also reported to be planning a listing some time in April.
So with these titans of digitized transport battling for dominance, we thought it was worth taking a timely look at some of the other interesting ventures making a play in the ride-hailing space.
Established in 2012 in New York, Via is a direct competitor to Uber, Lyft, and their Chinese counterpart DiDi Chuxing. The startup’s mobility platform, powered by a routing algorithm, fosters app-based ride sharing and pools passengers to cut down fares. After a smooth expansion from NYC to Chicago and DC, the ViaVan joint-venture with Mercedes Benz Vans is now scaling Via’s routing platform to major European cities.
Interestingly, Via also has a SaaS side of business, which provides cities or companies with the routing algorithms to power their own services — which positions Via as an ally for companies or institutions, unlike its competitors whose presence tends to invite opposition from local groups.
Using a different approach, other firms are focusing directly on providing the software systems to power other fleet operators — from taxis to trucks
One example is Wise Systems, an MIT spin-off founded in 2014, which uses AI to automatically dispatch drivers, give arrival estimates, and to schedule, monitor, and improve routes in real time. Wise Systems has also split its business model into modular offers, so its clients can choose to have the whole service, or just bits of it (such as only the routing function or time estimates). From its beginnings in powering ride-hailing fleets, Wise has also shifted over to logistics, retail, and supply chain management.
Another is Bohr Technology, a Canadian firm founded in 2017. To really catapult into the future for ancient problems, Bohr combines quantum programming, quantum physics, and machine learning to solve traffic congestion and fleet management.
If this ends up working, quantum computing and superposition of states could overcome the data processing limits of classical computers, and potentially solve some large scale optimization problems like planning city infrastructure or analyzing vast, multinational supply chains.
All in all, there is still plenty room to grow. It might involve using different business models to outwit rivals like Via has done, or offering the algorithms and computing power to allow other fleet operators (and tomorrow’s driverless fleets) to make a play for a new ride-hailing app. Even more exciting is the application of the technology that makes Uber and Lyft possible, and applying them to different industries like logistics and city infrastructure. Whatever is to come, Lyft and Uber’s surging success is surely signs of a mobility space that is ripe for change.