Uber’s plans include attacking public transit

Documents filed for IPO reveal plans to privatize transportation, getting riders off public buses and trains and onto "Uber buses."

Uber has acknowledged in a federal filing that its long-term goal is to privatize public transportation around the world.

In a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the ride-hail company reports that it seeks, as part of its growth strategy, not just to get people out of private cars but to get them off public buses and trains.

Those public services would be replaced by Uber Buses, now being tested in Cairo.

That stunning revelation is deep in a 300-page document called an S1, which the SEC requires for any company planning an initial public offering.

Uber’s IPO is expected this Friday. The document was filed April 11. I don’t think any of the major news media covering the IPO have noticed or reported on this part of Uber’s plans.

The S1 is fascinating reading (if you’re into this sort of thing). You can find it here. Uber admits in the document that it might never make a profit; that it continues to lose billions by underpricing its product (rides) to gain customer loyalty and market share; and that its entire business model could collapse if regulators or the courts decide that its drivers are employees, not private contractors.

So how is this company going to be attractive to investors? By about page 160, the company starts talking about its “Total Addressable Market.”

Here’s the first sign of what’s going on:

Our Personal Mobility TAM consists of 11.9 trillion miles per year, representing an estimated $5.7 trillion market opportunity in 175 countries. We include all passenger vehicle miles and all public transportation miles in all countries globally in our TAM, including those we have yet to enter, except for the 20 countries that we address through our ownership positions in our minority-owned affiliates, over which we have no operational control other than approval rights with respect to certain material corporate actions. These 20 countries represent an additional estimated market opportunity of approximately $0.5 trillion. We include trips greater than 30 miles in our TAM because riders already take trips over 30 miles on our platform, and over time riders may increasingly use our Ridesharing products for trips greater than 30 miles as the cost of such trips, and ultimately the degree to which individuals acquire their own automobiles, declines.

That’s right: The “market” for Uber includes all of the passengers who now take public transportation.

More:

We estimate that our TAM comprised 11.9 trillion miles in 175 countries in 2017. As detailed in the table below, this estimate includes both vehicle miles and public transportation miles. Our TAM is based on 7.5 trillion vehicle miles. We derive the number of vehicle miles in our TAM by multiplying the number of passenger cars in each country, based on third-party data, by our country-level estimates of miles traveled per car, based on 2018 reports from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration and the International Road Federation (©IRF World Road Statistics). Our TAM also includes an estimated 4.4 trillion public transportation miles.

Here’s where you get the real point:

Increasing Ridesharing penetration in existing markets. Our large addressable market opportunity means that with approximately 26 billion miles traveled on our platform in 2018, we have only reached a less than 1% penetration of miles traveled in trips under 30 miles in the 63 countries in which we operate. We believe we can continue to grow the number of trips taken with our Ridesharing products and replace personal vehicle ownership and usage and public transportation one use case at a time, including through continued investment in our affordable Ridesharing options, such as Uber Bus and Express POOL.

That’s right: Uber plans to grow its business by replacing public transportation.

The company, as far as I know, has never admitted that before. Its PR materials always talk about the environmental benefits of getting people out of private cars. The idea of decimating public transportation in the name of profits for a global corporation is pretty scary.

We have seen this before, starting in the 1930s, when a handful of big companies including General Motors and Standard Oil bought up urban rail lines around the country to force people to buy private cars. This is now considered a dark moment in environmental and transportation policy that created, among other things, the freeways and smog of Los Angeles and the end of rail transit on the Bay Bridge.

There’s a reason transportation, especially urban transportation, is public. Many Muni lines would lose money if they were treated as business ventures; they don’t have enough passengers to justify their existence. But San Francisco has a policy of making transit available to everyone, in every neighborhood.

The 8 Bayshore and the 9 San Bruno, for example, serve southeast neighborhoods that badly need transit access – but that likely wouldn’t get an Uber bus.

But Uber is telling Wall Street that its future as a company may depend on its ability to convince people to take private cars and buses instead of public transit, starving transit and ultimately forcing everyone to pay Uber to get around.

Sup. Aaron Peskin, who chairs the Land Use and Transportation Committee and has long been critical of Uber, told me that “this sounds like a Machiavellian plan to harm the tens of millions of people who rely on public transit … if there’s a definition of evil, this is it.”

He also said that San Francisco should fight the plan and not allow Uber buses. “I hope this is fought by every city in the United States,” he said.

Uber would probably not exist in its current format if San Francisco and other cities had not allowed it to break the law and run illegal cabs for years. Now, as always seems to be the case, policy-makers are scrambling to figure out how to deal with the impacts of Uber-friendly policies.

And I’m not sure anyone is prepared for an all-out assault on public transit, backed by billions in venture capital and Wall Street money.

But we need to get ready – now.