Ride-hailing company Uber is adding a new type of vehicle to its fleet: motorcycles.
The company on Tuesday announced a new service called UberMoto, through which passengers can grab rides on motorcycles with an Uber driver at the handlebars. The service has debuted as a pilot program in Bangkok, a city overflowing with traffic generated by automobiles.
San Francisco-based Uber, now 6 years old, operates in 350 cities in 60 countries. Despite its rapid growth, it faces challenges such as fierce competition from ride-hailing rivals like Lyft. It also contends with Asia-specific rivals like Didi Kuaidi in China and Grab in Southeast Asia. Grab already uses motorcycles in Thailand.
Uber says the idea behind UberMoto is to save passengers time and money, especially if they just need a short ride that doesn't require a full-sized car. The new service carries with it all of Uber's standard safety features, according to the company, including GPS tracking, two-way feedback from both driver and passenger and the ability for the passenger to share details of the trip with other people. UberMoto drivers also go through a police background check.
Why Bangkok as the first test? Uber is developing the service specifically for cities in emerging markets, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Bangkok's traffic problems also made it a candidate.
More than 1,500 new cars hit Bangkok each day, according to Uber. Traffic speeds are now under 16 kilometers (9 miles) per hour, or 6.8 MPH during rush hour. Drivers now spend around 2 hours on average stuck in traffic during their daily commute, the company added.
The process for hailing an Uber motorcycle is similar to hailing an Uber car. Passengers select the UberMoto option via the Uber mobile app and then enter the pickup location and method of payment. The driver's details pop up on the screen, so the passenger can identify the person. The passenger is given a helmet to wear to conform to Bangkok safety regulations.
UberMoto rides in Bangkok start at a rate of 10 Thai Baht (28 cents) plus 10 cents per kilometer and .02 cents per minute.
During the preliminary launch, UberMoto will be available only in limited sections of Bangkok. But "demand is expected to be off the charts," the company said, so more UberMoto drivers will be hired and the service will expand to additional areas.