Uber Technologies Inc. is starting its very first motorcycle taxi service in Bangkok, where perennial congestion leads to rush-hour traffic speeds in the Thailand capital of just 11 kilometers per hour (6.8 miles).
The startup that began life as a limousine service in the affluent San Francisco Bay Area now wants to tackle the workmanlike vehicles that hordes of Bangkok residents rely on to navigate jam-packed streets. It says it can help untangle the traffic snarls that result in two-hour daily commutes.
The move may also help boost Uber’s presence in a region where an alliance of its chief rivals dominates. Grab remains the leader in much of Southeast Asia, and has formed ranks with China’s Didi Kuaidi, India’s Ola and Uber’s cross-town U.S. rival Lyft to try and forestall its expansion into the region.
“Motorcycles are part of the commuting culture in Thailand,” Douglas Ma, Uber’s head of Asia expansion, said in a statement Wednesday. “We’re thrilled to introduce a product that resonates with Thai people.”
Uber has embarked on an aggressive global expansion, aided by billions of dollars in funding that have conferred upon the startup a valuation estimated at north of $60 billion -- the highest among privately run technology startups. Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick is spending aggressively to expand its global network and is making inroads into Grab’s home markets, from Malaysia and Vietnam to Singapore. This month, it started “uberHOP” in the Philippines, which lets commuters heading in the same direction share a ride during rush-hour at a flat fare.
But it’s so far stuck to its knitting, building networks of drivers with cars, vans or larger vehicles.
Thailand may be an ideal location to test a motorbike network. Motorcycle taxis and three-wheeled vehicles called “tuk tuks” are a familiar sight across the country and are synonymous with urban life. The “UberMOTO” service however will play catch-up to GrabTaxi Holdings Pte.’s own competing service. Elsewhere in the region, Go-JEK dominates the Indonesian motorcycle taxi scene.
Ride-sharing companies continue to operate in an ill-defined area in many countries when it comes to enabling privately owned cars to provide paid transportation, an activity confined traditionally to licensed taxis and rental companies.
The U.S. startup however is teaming with Thai traffic police to spread awareness about motorcycle safety -- including the need for helmets -- and is pledging to properly screen all who sign up to ride a bike for its new service.
And it claims to be the cheapest option in the city, with fares starting at just 10 baht (28 U.S. cents).