Taxis Today, Airplanes Tomorrow? 5 Businesses Uber Could Steer Toward Next

Photographer: Junko Kimura-Matsumoto/Bloomberg

An Uber Japan Co. employee reserves a car using the Uber application in Tokyo. Close

An Uber Japan Co. employee reserves a car using the Uber application in Tokyo.

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Photographer: Junko Kimura-Matsumoto/Bloomberg

An Uber Japan Co. employee reserves a car using the Uber application in Tokyo.

The growing popularity of Uber's car-sharing service has been a jarring ride for the taxi industry, and it's not the only business on the startup's road map.

In April, the company rolled out a package-delivery service that had "far greater" growth than what the original Uber service had in San Francisco at the same stage, CEO Travis Kalanick told Bloomberg Businessweek. A spokeswoman declined to go into specifics.

The San Francisco-based startup, which has angered taxi drivers around the world in its quest to provide instant ride-booking via a mobile app, could one day steer toward other ventures such as air travel or food delivery. With an extra $1.2 billion in the bank after this month's funding round, Uber has enough financial fuel to try just about anything.

"We're the cross between lifestyle and logistics,” Kalanick said on stage at the Code conference last month. "Lifestyle is: Give me what I want, and give it to me right now. And logistics is delivering that."

When it comes to delivering rides, Uber is the clear frontrunner among car-booking apps globally. The app is available in more than 130 cities spanning 38 countries. But victory is by no means assured. It contends with strong regional players, including China’s Yongche.com, the U.K.’s Hailo and Israel’s GetTaxi, which are pushing onto Uber’s home turf in the U.S. After an investment from Chinese giant Alibaba, Lyft is driving prices way down in San Francisco and New York.

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An Uber car on June 12, 2014 in San Francisco. Close

An Uber car on June 12, 2014 in San Francisco.

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Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

An Uber car on June 12, 2014 in San Francisco.

Kalanick suggests Uber’s focus remains on transporting people in cars. "Our vision is to offer a way for people to get around cities without having to drive a car,” he told Businessweek’s Brad Stone. But at the core, Uber and its rivals have built logistics-heavy systems that have the capability to quickly move more than just people in search of rides.

Here are five other services Uber and its rivals are testing or could potentially expand into down the road:

Product Shipping

Uber Rush is a compelling start, but it’s currently limited to New Yorkers in need of a courier service. However, the company could one day challenge UPS and FedEx by using the cars in its network to deliver packages to customers who order from Amazon.com or brick-and-mortar stores in major cities. Add planes and trains to the automobiles Uber already has, and it’s got a global delivery network.

Last year, one Uber rival called Mytaxi started asking its 17,000 drivers in Germany to deliver purchases as part of a collaboration with Metro, the country’s largest retailer. In New York, GetTaxi offers both rides and a delivery service called Gett Anything. The feature debuted after the company ran an April Fool's Day gag that offered customers 101 “experiences,” such as getting a tattoo in the backseat or a ride-along with a monkey. It was part marketing stunt and part experiment to see how GetTaxi could use its cars to offer "experiences or other services," Rich Pleeth, the company’s chief marketing officer, wrote in an e-mail.

Food Delivery

Once these services can transport products fast enough, food delivery is the next logical step. Mytaxi co-founder Sven Kulper said his company is working with Germany’s equivalent of GrubHub on getting dinner to customers in less than an hour.

Given Uber's reach and scale, the startup could do something similar. “Uber has been very aggressive in expanding,” Niklas Zennstrom said in a recent interview at Bloomberg’s San Francisco office. “It's quite easy for them to get into adjacent services." His venture capital firm Atomico is an investor in Hailo.

Alternative to School Buses

Parents with young children in New York got a new transportation option last month. Uber added a fleet of vehicles with car seats for an extra $10 per ride. Kalanick said at the Code conference last month that the company wants parents to feel comfortable about having their children ride alone with its drivers as an alternative to carpools and school buses.

He said he wants Uber to provide services that “give parents the comfort to do these kinds of things so they can have a higher quality of life, and they're not chauffeuring three hours a day if they don't want to."

Air Travel

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Uber co-founder Garrett Camp had already experimented with a service for booking seats last-minute on private planes. His BlackJet project hasn’t taken off in the way Uber has, largely because of the price. A flight from San Francisco to New York costs about $3,800. But Camp notes that Uber’s black-car service was expensive in the beginning, too.

“The prices will come down,” he said in an interview. Travelers going private get to avoid the security check-in lines and metal detectors. Who wouldn’t like that?

Home, Auto Services

Don’t have the patience to sift through Craigslist or Angie’s List for a mechanic, plumber or locksmith? GetTaxi’s Pleeth imagines being able to one day hire a maid at the tap of a button. In the same way that there needs to be enough drivers available at any given moment to provide immediate car service, GetTaxi would need to have an army of housekeepers ready to answer the call.

A handyman on demand could be an attractive extension of Uber's business, according to Steve Jang, an early adviser to Uber. "Imagine a global network of local services as well as resources for sale or for rent through one account," he said in an interview.

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