Uber launches a Jump e-bike pilot in London, one year on from winning taxi license appeal

After admitting it had to modify some of its Jump electric bikes to fix braking issues — the same problem that had halted Lyft’s e-bike business — Uber is getting back on its bike, so to speak. Almost one year after nearly getting driven off London’s streets completely by losing its taxi operating license, Uber today announced the launch of Jump e-bikes in London. The service is kicking off with a pilot of 350 bikes in the borough of Islington, with plans to expand to more areas of the city in the coming months.

If you are in the catchment, Jump Bikes will now appear as an option in your Uber app alongside UberPool, UberX and public transportation data — which was added three weeks ago.

Pricing for the dockless Jump bikes is modelled on how Jump works in the U.S.: it costs £1 to unlock a bike, and then £0.12 per minute to ride it, with your first five minutes free. The electric pedal-assist responds to pedal pressure, and can give a boost to help you ride up to 15 miles per hour. If you park a bike outside of the allowed range (currently, Islington), you get a warning on the app. And if you leave the bike parked there, you get a £25 fine.

“There is now one more transport alternative for the 3.5 million people who use the Uber app in the capital,” said Jamie Heywood, Uber’s GM for Northern and Eastern Europe. “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.”

Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, built on hailing cars through apps, have been gradually incorporating other forms of transportation on to their platforms to diversify what they offer to consumers, and to provide a more open and accessible face to local regulators.

In urban areas, sometimes taking cars is excessive or impractical because of the distances covered, or the traffic situation, or because the passenger wants to do something more active than sit in the back of a Prius. (It’s not the only one: As we reported a couple of weeks ago, Uber’s soon-to-be-Middle Eastern business, Careem, which it’s buying for $3.1 billion, has also been working on buying a bike startup.)

That has led to adding other “vehicles” like bikes and scooters, as well as public transportation for those who want to walk a little, as well.

The bigger idea is that even in cases where the operator — Uber, in this case — is not getting a cut on the ride (as in the case of public transportation), or actually making very little on the ride while also taking on more overhead (as it does with owning bike fleets where average rides are likely to be less than $10), it’s helping create a habit: It wants to be the app a consumer turns to for any transportation-related need, groundwork that it has to have in place to help ensure longer-term viability (and now, also, to keep public investors confident that Uber will ultimately be able to tip itself into the black and continue to grow… not a sure bet for everyone).

But it’s not just about consumer choice. It was almost a year ago that Uber won a hotly contested appeal in the London courts to get an extension of its vehicle-operating license in London (which had been snapped away from it by angry regulators) while it worked on fixing some of the issues that it had with its service: adding more environment-friendly, and car traffic congestion-reducing, options like e-bikes is also part of that effort.

The bumpy road for micromobility

Micromobility — the term for two-wheeled vehicles and the short rides and small fees that are typically collected around them — has had something of a bumpy road in London, not unlike other markets.

For starters, we still do not have any on-demand scooter services (electric or otherwise) running widely in the capital. Part of the reason is that the U.K.’s Department of Transportation and Transport for London (the city’s local authority) have not yet determined whether and how to change electric scooters’ classification for open-road use.

Currently, electric scooters are classified as light electric vehicles and are illegal on both roads and sidewalks, so can only be used on private property, making any wide commercial rollouts impossible.

To date, the only electric scooter businesses that we have seen launched in the U.K. have been pilots in closed campuses, like the Bird scooter service in the Olympic Village started last year. I’d be curious to know how widely those scooters are used: every time I’ve been to the area, I’ve seen far more scooters parked than I’ve seen moving.

There are a number of electric scooter services already available in other markets in Europe — Paris, where you might find kids giving each other lifts on them, or couples romantically co-riding on single vehicles (très Parisienne!), is apparently one of the largest e-scooter markets in the world now. But these are facing other problems, such as malfunctioning vehicles, and vast, clutter-ific oversupply. That’s not stopping money from pouring into the startups, though!

Bikes have also had their issues — wonky gears, you might say. A number of the companies that confidently launched services a year ago have either collapsed or significantly curtailed operations. Some are recapitalising and trying once more on a different footing. Mobike, which is currently raising money to complete a spin-off from its Chinese parent, also wants to add alternative forms of transport, which could include e-bikes and scooters, to its fleet.

However, electric bikes — despite some notable hiccups in the U.S., such as Lyft’s service halt, executive changes and layoffs — are a story that has yet to be fully played out.

If you were to walk through many parts of the city today, you’d likely see multiple Lime e-bikes alongside the plethora of other shared bikes that can be picked up and used on-demand.

The city is sprawling enough that walking might take a bit too long, congested enough that any motorised car or bus also doesn’t inspire, and with a good enough amount of inclines that regular bikes face a barrier from anyone but the most confident or regular cyclist: the perfect environment for e-bikes, some might say.

That’s given Uber a big fillip to move ahead with the Jump launch here now.

“We’re excited to bring JUMP bikes to Islington, our first launch in London. With our electric bikes, we hope to encourage more people to try an environmentally friendly way to get across the city,” said Christian Freese, general manager of JUMP, EMEA, in a statement.

“Our JUMP bikes have been designed with safety in mind, with a sturdy frame and a bright red colour that makes them visible to other road users. The app explains features of the bike before your first trip so you can ride confidently. We encourage everyone to think about wearing a helmet, follow all traffic laws and brake early and gradually.”

Unlike its original forays into car-sharing, Uber’s move with bikes has been made with playing nice in mind.

“We’re working hard to make Islington an attractive and easier place to walk and cycle. We’re pleased to welcome JUMP to Islington – bike sharing offers a simple way for many residents, workers and visitors to get around quickly, cheaply and conveniently,” said Claudia Webbe, a councillor in the borough of Islington who is also executive member for Environment and Place. “Shared electric bikes are accessible to many people of different ages and fitness levels, and can help encourage even more people to switch to cycling, which is healthier and more environmentally friendly.”