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Uber and Lyft have pulled thousands of e-bikes out of circulation from their bike-share services after reports of technical issues with the bikes’ brakes, according to The Verge.
The problems caused bikes’ front wheels to lock up, propelling some riders off the bikes. Dozens of passengers were reportedly injured as a result of the faulty braking systems. Both companies’ e-bikes use a braking system from Shimano, a third-party supplier based in Japan.
Here’s what it means: The safety issues could dent the standing of Uber’s and Lyft’s micromobility services with two key groups:
- Uber and Lyft risk drawing the ire of regulators, who haven’t traditionally viewed micromobility services like e-bikes and scooters favorably. In 2017, for example, New York City cracked down on illegal e-bike use, citing safety risks to pedestrians and riders. Though New York has since loosened its restrictions on e-bikes, these latest braking issues could rekindle local officials’ fight against e-bikes in the city and elsewhere in the US. That, in turn, could hamper Uber and Lyft’s ability to expand their bike-sharing services, both in existing markets and to new cities.
- The safety issue also could also alienate consumers and dampen adoption of Uber’s and Lyft’s bike sharing services. Both bike-sharing services and e-bikes are still in the early phases of adoption among consumers. News of safety issues connected to bike-sharing services could make it difficult to convert non-adopters to bike-sharing services, something that Lyft and Uber are keen to do in order to realize returns on the sizable investments they’ve made in the space: Lyft bought Motivate, the parent company of Citi Bike, for $250 million, while Uber spent $200 million to acquire JUMP, its bike-share arm.
The bigger picture: The e-bike issue presents a challenge to Uber’s and Lyft’s micromobility strategies, a key area of focus for both companies. In its S-1 filing last week, Uber said it believes "dockless e-bikes and e-scooters could replace passenger cars for many trips under three miles." The ride-hailing giants hope to eventually become one-stop shops for consumer transit, but they’ll need to address the e-bike safety concerns in order to stay on track.
Uber and Lyft appear intent to take more control over the manufacturing processes for e-bikes to resolve the brake issue, but that’ll be challenging in its own right.Uber modified the bikes affected by the brake issue and is also planning to introduce a new, purpose-built bike of its own.
Lyft has also said it’s developing a new electric bike. But neither company has ever manufactured its own physical products, meaning making their own e-bikes — or even just having more control over the manufacturing process — will be a complex task. Bringing e-bike design and manufacturing in-house will likely require Uber and Lyft to accelerate their pushes to hire hardware engineers, for instance.
Moreover, it may require added R&D investments, which are already sizable: Uber revealed in its S-1 that last year it spent $457 billion on autonomous and flying car R&D alone. Still, the resource-intensive push to develop e-bikes will likely be necessary for Uber and Lyft to mitigate these safety issues and maximize their potential in the burgeoning micromobility space.
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