Uber, the fast-growing, sometimes-controversial car-service business, has been no stranger to trouble in Germany, last year getting banned from operating certain services in big cities over regulatory violations. Today the company is kicking off a new service with a popular local partner — one way it might improve its fortunes in the country.
Carpooling.com, the ridesharing startup, will now offer customers door-to-door services by way of Uber: Carpooling users who need transportation to get to and from a pickup or dropoff point can now order an Uber to do that within the Carpooling app.
The move is an interesting one for a company that has made a lot of aggressive moves to own the transportation space, raising some serious funding in the process to do so. Last year, Uber itself launched UberPool to expand its taxi-style car service to include ride-sharing.
But — perhaps given the clouds that have gathered over the company in the last several months — the company seems to have opted to take a less direct route to picking up new customers in Germany, relying on Carpooling’s own market traction in the sharing market instead of building up its own.
This is not the first time that Uber and Carpooling have worked together. Markus Barnikel, Carpooling’s CEO, tells me that they have been in discussions for a while about how to pair their services. Ultimately, they ended up launching it first in the U.S., just last month, as part of Carpooling’s arrival in the country.
Germany’s Carpooling itself has been around since 2001. It says that on a given day you can access about 900,000 rides on its platform. The company has 6 million registered users.
The service in Germany will be a first step for the pair in Europe, with future plans to expand it to other countries in Carpooling’s footprint. “We will expand this beyond Germany. We will do this across Europe,” he says.
For Carpooling, the partnership makes sense, given that the first- and last-mile parts of journeys is users are taking can often be so far that it makes Carpooling itself untenable to use.
“We will bring a new standard of convenience to mid- and long-distance travel that passengers with inner city mobility apps have long enjoyed,” said Barnikel in a statement announcing the service. “By removing the inconvenience barrier to getting to the meeting point, we will open up ridesharing to a completely new target group.”
It will also bring a differentiating edge to Carpooling in its own category of competition, with others in the space including France’s fast-growing BlaBlaCar.
Interestingly, for now at least, this will not compete with Uber’s own UberPool ride-sharing service. “UberPool is a smart way to share inner-city rides, but it doesn’t offer a solution for longer distances,” Barnikel tells me. The average distance on a Carpooling ride, he tells me, is 130 miles.
There is another way that this service could benefit Uber in Europe beyond simply giving them more exposure to consumers alongside an app they already know.
Barnikel tells me that Carpooling, which gets around 4 million transportation search requests each month, can see just how many people are requesting rides along certain corridors, but also how many segments of those are not being addressed by services that already exist (effectively, these are the rides that are searched for but yield no matches). “We can see the demand, so maybe regulators would take that into account when considering Uber’s role in transportation, too,” he says.