Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Uber Rush — NYC messenger service by Uber is coming

Uber functions right now as, in effect, a taxi dispatch company though you also hear words like "ridesharing" tossed around. But they are about to dip their toes in the water of a different business — messenger services and deliveries. The service is called Uber Rush (or "UberRUSH" as they want to style it) and they will not be assuaging anyone's concerns about the company's privileged client base by making it exclusively available in Manhattan below 110th Street (i.e., the traditional dividing line between black Harlem and white Manhattan).

Uber Rush won't buy things for you. It will just pick them up and then drop them off wherever you've directed them to go.

It's a perfect match for the Manhattan location, because messenger services that shuttle documents and other small parcels from office to office is already an existing business niche in the city's main office districts. But unlike a traditional messenger service which is a little difficult for a random person to access for occasional use, Uber will have pre-existing relationships with lots of people who use it as a car dispatch service. Clients who've come to rely on Uber for transportation needs will probably feel comfortable simply tapping a different button on the app to sporadically access a messenger service than they would be calling up some whole new company they've never heard of. To provide the service, Uber is teaming up with a bunch of bicycle couriers who — like Uber drivers — will be independent contractors rather than employees of the team. Pricing is based on dividing the service area into five sub-zones, with a base charge of $15 plus an extra $5 for every crossing of a zone boundary.

Messenger services just in part of Manhattan is clearly a pretty small line of business. But it's an important sign about where the company is heading. They are known to the world as a car dispatch service, but they like to describe themselves as specializing in "urban logistics." Last December they staged this Christmas tree delivery marketing stunt, that I said was likely a precursor to a broader move into delivery. And now you're seeing a version of that come to fruition with Uber Rush.

The ability to dispatch vehicles to arbitrary locations and efficiently route them through a city has a lot of potential applications beyond just taxis. Ultimately the company would like to make a much bigger push into the broader world of delivery and logistics, and this is the toe in those waters.

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