Uber: Mobility-as-a-Service steps in Taiwan

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Uber, which made public its intention to shift focus to electric bikes and scooters yesterday, has announced a new initiative: Uber for Taiwan. 

The programme was announced during the "Smart Cities - The Future of Transportation" forum in Taipei, Taiwan; Uber's Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Barney Harford, who was invited to deliver a keynote speech, seized the opportunity to launch the company's partnership with the Taiwanese government. According to the local newspaper, Taiwan News, which was also cited by Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, the programme will serve a dual purpose: primarily, it is aimed at creating an integrated platform for public transportation; secondarily, it should help attract the local talent to self-driving and artificial intelligence technologies.   

Part of the Uber for Taiwan initiative is a Mobility-as-a-Service project. Launched alongside the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications of Taiwan, the project will yield an integrated platform which will allow passengers to use a single application (presumably, the Uber app or a new app powered by Uber) and a single wallet to reach their destination, regardless of the transportation options they use in doing so. In order to facilitate such integration, Uber decided to give Taipei access to Uber Movement, a website which allows transportation professionals to access to anonymised data from over two billion trips to help urban planning around the world. Furthermore, Uber's COO explained, the integration of new modes of transportation with Uber will allow smaller taxi companies, which do not normally have access to the cutting-edge technology needed to build an app, to tap into new pools of funds through UberTaxi. 

With regard to the new education opportunities for Taiwan's talented workforce, Uber announced the inclusion of the Asian country to two of its initiatives: Uber Exchange and Uber AI Labs. Uber Exchange was launched in 2016 and is effectively a startup mentoring programme. The startups gaining access to Uber Exchange have the opportunity to attend seminars by industry leaders, meet up with global investors and other startups founders. Uber AI Labs is the branch of Uber that researches and creates the AI technology to turn "science fiction" into reality. Through both of these programmes, Taiwanese talent will gain access to the Uber brains behind self-driving vehicles and AI, either by bringing these experts to Taiwan, or flying the involved teams to San Francisco. 

As Dara Khosrowshahi suggested in his relevant tweet, this partnership with Taiwan is a representative case of Uber's new model: growth in partnership with local government. Indeed, as Uber adjusts its focus to tackle the new era of transportation, which includes electric bikes and scooters as a dominant means of completing short trips, it will need to have local government on its side. Apart from the obvious hurdles of acquiring a permit to operate its bike-sharing and scooter-sharing programmes locally, Uber will likely want to include public transportation options into its app, in order to make getting from A-to-B as seamless as possible. In order to achieve this,  it will need to get local governments (and more likely, Departments of Transportation) onboard with its Mobility-as-a-Service vision. Taiwan may be the first step, but it will definitely open a world of possibility for the ride-hailing giant. 

Photo Credit: ViewPointDaily/Flickr