Various companies entered the market last decade to meet a litany of consumer transportation needs: mass transit, e-commerce, food delivery, car ownership and more. Now some of these companies are taking on multiple transport functions at once that often feed their “main” business model. It amounts to a vertical integration that public sector transport has never managed and that will benefit the end consumer.
Brightline, which launched the first private intercity rail service in the U.S. in a quarter-century, is an example. The company’s best known for its expansion of service from Miami to Orlando, and attempted to build a line from Las Vegas to the Los Angeles suburbs.
It’s also creating something of a “one-stop shop” for transportation not just between cities, but to get to and from stations. Along with shuttle van services from stations, Brightline+ allows riders to take on-demand trips to points within 5 miles of stations. Mass Transit magazine reports the service is being offered in conjunction with Via, a transportation network company which, as we reported last year, has contracted with several cities to operate demand-response transport vans. Brightline is thus an example of a private sector transport service addressing the first/last-mile problem associated with rail transit. Both the exclusive and shared ride vehicles are electric, and Brightline is making the services available to all ticketholders (though additional fees may be added later on).
The company is also providing bikeshare options. It launched a public-private partnership in West Palm Beach to provide a 150-fleet bikeshare service for residents, visitors, and those riding Brightline trains. Users can also access Citibike services in Miami.
Brightline’s president, Patrick Goddard, told local media that his company was providing the “first real car-free alternative that’s going to be available really in the United States.”
Brightline is advancing towards this goal yet more by building high-rise housing around its rail line – which is designed to bolster these transport initiatives by putting residents nearby.
But Brightline’s far from the only example of a private transportation provider offering a plethora of businesses and options for users. In fact it’s becoming the norm. While the initial wave of shared micro-mobility companies mostly just offered either bikes and scooters for rent, more recent entrants offer both. Voi Technology, a Swedish firm which strives to foster “cities free from congestion, noise and pollution,” offers scooter share throughout western Europe, but is rolling out e-bikes in select British markets, and is partnering with Dublin’s bus operator, mirroring similar partnerships between public transit authorities and micro-mobility companies in the U.S.
In Southeast Asia, a web-based rideshare and delivery business called Grab seeks to provide comprehensive mobility and delivery services, even developing its own payment mechanism (GrabPay) while building out its own version of Google Maps. As the VC organization 500 startups writes, “think of it as Uber + DoorDash + PayPal, but with integrated UX.” Because of its multifaceted nature, Grab has been described as a “superapp”.
Another prominent example is Tesla. In addition to being the world’s largest manufacturer of electric cars, the firm is involved in producing chargers themselves and building charging stations. According to Tesla, tens of thousands of charging stations have been installed nationwide, including at hotels, presumably under the premise that drivers can charge their cars overnight.
But there have been persistent rumors that the manufacturer could enter the rideshare business. Some analysts argue that Tesla is uniquely well positioned to compete with Uber and Lyft, because the company is further along on automation and has better remote software built into vehicles. Tesla has actively planned to launch ride sharing in tandem with automation, and Revel, similarly, provides services related to electric transportation, including an all-Tesla ridesharing operation (unlike competitors, Revel employs its drivers directly). Revel also provides electric charging stations that are not exclusive to Teslas, and is better known for its rentable mopeds. Thus, it provides several mobility options.
Uber is our last big example: along with rideshare, it has dabbled in freight truck brokerage, shared micro-mobility, helicopter flights, food delivery, and more. Among these options, the rideshare and food delivery services have become near-ubiquitous across the U.S., and Uber is aggressively expanding them overseas.
The question is whether any of these companies ever become powerful enough to dominate as the single provider of multiple services. Amazon, which does not provide personal transportation, nonetheless shows how this can look for e-commerce. It simultaneously runs massive operations for online sales, cloud computing, cargo, warehousing, and delivery; it’s the closest thing America has to this “superapp”-style company.
If such a company existed in transport, it would provide multiple modes (bus, rail, bike, etc.) and multiple services pertaining to the movement of people and goods. Right now that seems unlikely, as the companies we mentioned face fierce competition and struggle to profit. Consumer demand is strong, but loyalties are scattered across different platforms. We are instead likely to see lots of companies test lots of different services to discover which provision models stick.
[This article was co-authored with Scott Beyer and originally published by the Independent Institute.]
Ethan Finlan is the content staffer for Market Urbanism Report, researching housing, transport, and public administration. He is originally from San Diego, and is now based outside of Boston.
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