Ride-hailing app backed by German carmakers takes on Uber


More than 500 transport groups sign up to offer services on new mobility platform




Here Mobility, a unit of a digital mapping service purchased for €2.8bn by German carmakers in 2015, launched a new transportation app on Monday which aims to dethrone Uber and Lyft by “democratising” transport.


The new app, SoMo — short for Social Mobility — is a neutral platform that has already signed up more than 500 third parties to get riders from A to B, regardless of whether they need e-scooters, cars, public transport, robotaxis or anything else.


“The current trend in the mobility-as-a-service market has turned out to be very consolidated, concentrated — even monopolistic in many areas of the world,” said Liad Itzhak, head of Here Mobility, whose parent company Here Technologies is majority owned by Audi, BMW and Daimler.


SoMo lets users plan where they need to be, then choose from a host of private and public transport services to get them there, akin to Google Maps. But unlike the dominant ride-hailing groups, SoMo is a social media network, too, connecting friends who are attending the same “gatherings”.


Mr Itzhak said SoMo’s chief goal was to bring back the original promise of shared vehicles: reduced traffic and cheap services.


It aims to meet this goal even by connecting riders with drivers on free transactions it cannot profit from.  Parents going to their children’s football game at the weekend, for instance, can notify their network they are driving to the pitch and have three seats open.


Friends who accept receive notifications of when their ride will arrive. “The underlying vision [of ride-hailing] was going from A to B, anywhere you want, cheaply and with a lot of trust,” Mr Itzhak said.


What we are seeing is the opposite: there is a monopolistic market, prices are going up and there is a lack of efficiency.”  A study for San Francisco, for instance, blamed Uber and Lyft for 51 per cent of the increase in “daily vehicle delay hours” that the city experienced between 2010 and 2016.


In Manhattan, the city’s 17,000 taxis now compete on roads clogged up with more than 100,000 ride-hailing vehicles, slowing traffic by 21 per cent between 2010 and 2016. 


As Uber and Lyft speed towards listing on the public stock markets, analysts at BIS research said the market for “mobility as a service” will grow by 50 per cent annually to be worth $1.8tn by 2028.  SoMo launched on Monday in 15 western cities including London, Barcelona, Athens, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.


The plan is to add five to 10 cities each month, in a gradual rollout aimed at ensuring the services offered are working correctly. 


Participating companies include CityFleet in London and PideTaxi in Spain. Eurowings, the first airline to sign up, will allow flyers to book their post-flight trip before they step on the plane.


The app is designed to notify its partners if the flight has a delayed arrival, then re-book if necessary. 


The app is open for Lyft and Uber to join, but so far the mega-players of the industry have not signed up. Mr Itzhak said he is not surprised. “They want a monopolistic position — players that don’t want to see competition in the market will see us as a threat,” he said.


The Financial Times

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