Uber Acquires the Bike-Share Company Jump
Jump Bikes has a new owner: Uber. The bike-sharing company, launched as Social Bicycles in 2011, runs GPS-enabled programs in twelve cities all over the world, including Portland, Oregon, and Phoenix, Arizona. In San Francisco, Jump’s offerings are both electric and dockless—twin cycling innovations that helped kick off a nationwide (and global) bike-sharing craze.
The acquisition is a signal that Uber doesn’t want to be seen as just a taxi substitute, but an urban mobility company. “We’re committed to bringing together multiple modes of transportation within the Uber app—so that you can choose the fastest or most affordable way to get where you’re going, whether that’s in an Uber, on a bike, on the subway, or more,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in a blog post. This isn’t a new concept for the ride-hailing company: In February, Khosrowshahi said he hoped to one day use Uber’s platform to run a city’s bus system.
So the acquisition seems a natural fit for Uber. For one, Jump Bike is already integrated into the ride-hail service, thanks to a two month-old pilot that allows San Francisco Uber customers to reserve electric bicycles from inside the Uber app.
But more pressingly for the ride-hailing business, bike-sharing, and especially electric bike-sharing, poses a particular threat to the industry at large. Unlike, say, an Uber, bikes don’t get caught in traffic. (Nice bonus: The bikes’ pedal-assist features mean riders won’t end up at their destination drenched in sweat.) Also, with a base fare of $2 per 30 minutes, a Jump ride can be cheaper than even an Uber Express Pool.
“Research in other parts of the world has suggested for a long time that electric bikes can be very disruptive to other travel modes because of their ease of use, additional power, and the ability to go from point A to point B without hitting as much congestion or having to take multiple transit transfers,” Susan Shaheen, a civil engineer who studies mobility at the University of California, Berkeley, told WIRED in February.
As for Jump, the company seems to have stumbled upon the right product at the right time. As CEO Ryan Rzepecki points out in a blog post announcing the acquisition, Jump is a “10-year ‘overnight success’ story”—a company that had long been hacking away at the dockless bike-sharing business before the model’s explosive success in China brought a flood of funding into the space. (Yes, a flood: Just last week, Chinese food delivery company Meituan bought Shanghai-based bike-sharing startup Mobike for $2.7 billion.)
“I tell my students that a lot of startup success is staying alive long enough for something good to happen, and that’s what happened in this space,” says Karl Ulrich, the vice dean of entrepreneurship and innovation at the the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an early investor in Jump.
Those years of work and product design produced a nice-looking electric pedal-assist bike, sure. But it also endowed Jump with another asset that should be useful to Uber—good relationships with city officials. Rzepecki is a city planner by training, and Jump has had success running bike-share systems in cities all over the globe.
“You can’t just spend money and get that,” says Ulrich. “It’s something that takes a long time to build and is critical for success.” Uber learned that the hard way. Other mobility companies like Bird and LimeBike continue with the “launch first, ask for forgiveness later” model, putting their bicycles, e-bikes, and e-scooters on the streets without explicit permission from city officials. Maybe the Jump acquisition is a sign that Uber wants to do things differently.