Uber plans to add long-distance travel bookings to its UK app later this year, including intercity trains, coaches and flights, as chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi reboots the ‘super-app’ strategy he first outlined several years ago.
The plan is to expand Uber’s ride-booking app into a one-stop shop for travel that could eventually include hotels. This is aimed at providing a “seamless door-to-door experience”, said Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for UK, northern and eastern Europe.
The UK, one of Uber’s biggest markets outside North America, will pilot the service before a wider rollout.
The company hopes that adding new forms of transport will boost the core ride-hailing business, with customers using its driver network to move between transit hubs, as well as earn it commissions when customers book train or bus fares. Before Covid hit, around 15 per cent of Uber trips were made to airports so the company hopes that by integrating flight booking and ticketing these higher-margin rides can be boosted.
Khosrowshahi began talking about Uber becoming a platform for a wider range of mobility options — branded by some in Silicon Valley as a ‘super app’ — in 2018, a year after he was appointed chief executive. However, when the coronavirus pandemic halted the travel and transport industry, Uber refocused on expanding its food delivery business.
“It’s fair to say that Covid made it a little bit hard for us to progress as quickly as we would like,” Heywood said, after adding electric bikes and London Underground links to its UK app in 2019. “With Covid behind us, with this big push into new modes of transport, we want to signal that this is a very important growth lever for us over the coming years.”
Last summer, the UK was one of the first of Uber’s big markets where passenger numbers returned to pre-pandemic levels. User numbers across rides and food delivery have hit 20mn over the past 12 months.
After years of regulatory uncertainty about its ability to operate in London, the capital’s transport authority also granted Uber a 30-month licence in March. “It’s nice to have turned the page on that one and be able to look forward with much more certainty,” Heywood said.
Uber has been forced to raise its UK fares twice in recent months. It increased them in November to attract more drivers and last month to include VAT after a court ruled in December that the company should contract directly with passengers.
It is unclear for now whether Uber will ultimately become an ally or a new rival to existing travel-booking services such as Trainline, Skyscanner or Khosrowshahi’s previous employer, Expedia.
Uber has not yet disclosed whether it plans to offer tickets from rail and coach operators directly or partner with existing aggregator services when the service goes live this summer. Flight bookings will launch later in the year, Heywood said, and hotel reservations could follow next year.
After starting out as a rival to traditional taxis and high-end limos, Uber has over the years gradually added more features to its app, from Eats restaurant and grocery deliveries to bikes and scooters. However, the ability to purchase tickets for public transport has largely been limited to one-off experiments such as shared minibuses in Egypt or the Thames commuter ferry in London, which was rebranded as ‘Uber Boat’ in 2020.