Worry about its impact on jobs, or quibble with its tactics, but give Uber this: The ride-hailing startup is taking over transportation within cities at stunning speeds.
Here's the latest evidence: Last month, Uber accounted for 47 percent of all rides expensed by employees whose companies use Certify, the second-largest provider of travel and expense management software in North America. In March 2014, Uber accounted for only 15 percent, according to a study by Certify released on April 7. Over that period, the amount spent on traditional taxis, limousines, and airport shuttles fell from 85 percent to 52 percent of expensed rides. Lyft, a rival ride-hailing service that caters more to consumers than professionals, currently accounts for 1 percent of business rides, the study found.
"Uber has changed the dynamic of business travel," says Robert Neveu, Certify's chief executive officer. "They were first to market with a phenomenal service; they expanded rapidly, and the results are that users are adopting the heck out of it." His company, which has no business relationship with Uber, analyzed the ground transportation expenses of business travelers in North America last year and through the first three months of this year.
The study also broke out data from eight major U.S. cities, showing that Uber is growing faster in some places than others. In its hometown of San Francisco, its oldest market, Uber accounted for 71 percent of all rides expensed by Certify-using business travelers, up from 58 percent last year, while taxi use in the city fell from 42 percent to 29 percent. Uber has also taken a majority share of the market in Dallas and is close to achieving parity with taxis among business travelers in Los Angeles and Washington.
In New York, the country's largest taxi market, Uber still has a relatively small foothold. Twenty-one percent of expensed ride went to Uber, versus 79 percent to taxis. Progress has also been slower in Chicago—from 8 percent last year to 25 percent this year—suggesting that Uber faces more of an uphill climb in cities where yellow cabs are omnipresent and woven into the fabric of daily city life. An Uber spokeswoman would not comment specifically on the Certify report.
Uber has added several features catering to businesses in the last year. The company teamed up with American Express, a credit-card favorite among corporate finance departments, in June 2014 to book rides using reward points. A month later, Uber introduced a new service, called Uber for Business, that lets companies set up corporate accounts and allows employees to charge their rides directly to employers. The Uber spokeswoman would not say how many businesses are enrolled in the program, but said "hundreds of businesses" join every week. Uber worked with Starbucks, the most expensed restaurant by employees using Certify in the first quarter, and United Airlines, the third-most expensed airline, on new versions of their apps, with ride-hailing buttons, that rolled out in August.
The Certify study also uncovered a data point your boss will appreciate. The average ride in an Uber—a category that includes the low-cost UberX service, in addition to the pricier black car and SUV variations—costs $31.24, while the average fare for a taxi, shuttle buses, or limo was slightly higher, at $35.40. "Across business travel we have seen the strongest growth on UberX, our lowest cost option," says Max Crowley, who manages the Uber for Business program. "Employees recognize the value of riding with Uber and are saving their companies money in the process."
Update, 12:27pm: Adds comment from Uber manager in the last paragraph.