BMW Launches Ride-Share Service: Move Over, Uber?

BMW is jumping into the ride-sharing market. With Uber, Juno and other cab-alternative companies already competing, BMW will make the ride-sharing road just a little more crowded.

The move is not a surprise to many, at least, not in Seattle. The luxury auto-making giant purchased 63 ride-share permits in February 2016, according to Daniel DeMay of Seattle PI. Since then, BMW’s ride-share ReachNow logo has been seen around downtown Seattle on BMW i3s.

Kedar Grandhi of the International Business Times UK says the current BMW ride-share model is a little different from Uber’s. ReachNow, he writes, would be an extension of BMW’s car rental service DriveNow. DriveNow is used by 600,000 people spread across nine European cities, and charges by the minute. Add Seattle to that list, as BMW will have 370 rentals available there beginning April 8.

BMW Launches Ride-Share Move Over Uber
[Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty]

But by the end of 2016, ReachNow users will be able to rent Beamers from the owners themselves. If BMW has its way, they’ll be able to do it in 12 more American cities. Agreements between BMW, insurance companies and local transportation authorities will come into play first. The full expansion may take up to three years.

The move by BMW may change the transportation game in different ways. U.S. cabbies have already voiced displeasure over ride-shares. In Chicago, a 2015 Chicago Tribune article by John Byrne covered a City Council budget hearing. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s upcoming budget called for increasing fees on taxis and ride-shares, and raising taxi fares 15 percent. Cabbies howled, complaining that the policies are forcing them out of business.

Another sticking point in Chicago, a major city with two major airports, is congestion at the terminals. Thousands of unregulated Uber cars and their ride-share cohorts descending on the O’Hare and Midway airports creates a safety concern.

Chicago is also considering how best to help cut the city’s budget deficit. Several aldermen suggested requiring ride-share drivers, like cabbies, to pay for chauffeurs licenses.

Ride-shares may be popular with riders, but cab drivers worldwide have been less than thrilled with them. Oliver Moore, the transportation reporter for the Globe and Mail, wrote of a mass protest by cabbies in Toronto last December. The BBC reported in January that over 1,000 cab drivers wrought anti-Uber havoc in Paris and other French cities, drawing tear gas from police in some places.

The grousing over jobs and money isn’t confined to cab drivers, though. New York Post reporters Danielle Furfaro and Kenneth Garger detailed a strike by Uber drivers over the ride-share company’s fare cuts, which hammered at the drivers’ incomes.

This is the lane BMW wants to pull into.

BMW Launches Ride-Share Move Over Uber
[Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty]
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But some see BMW’s move as both smart and necessary from a business standpoint. Young people, the car-maker argues, don’t see much point in spending their money on buying cars. BMW board member Peter Schwarzenbauer says the company’s DriveNow and new ReachNow initiatives are aimed at them. “It would be ignorant from our point if we ignore how young people are using mobility,” he said. “We are reaching younger people who are not buying our cars.”

BMW celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Schwarzenbauer is not only looking back, though, he is looking forward. “We want to shape our mobility of tomorrow,” he said. “We don’t want it to be shaped — we want to shape it.”

So, what about BMW competing with both existing ride-shares and cabs in the U.S.? Northwest Side Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno made a statement at the 2015 City Council budget meeting about the bickering between ride-shares and cab companies. He said, “The taxicab industry didn’t innovate because they didn’t have to. They had a monopoly. Here comes ride-share along, and says, ‘Hey, we’ve got a company, we’ve got an idea. We’re in America.'”

And now BMW’s ReachNow is in America, too.

[Photo by Scott Olsen/Getty]