09 June 2018

The Future, For Now? Am I Responsible For It?

I'll take credit--but not blame.

No, I'm not channeling El Cheeto Grande.  Rather, I am here now to tell you that a line I tossed off in an earlier post has become a reality--better (or worse) yet, a business plan.

Last year I wrote about the then-new dockless bike share programs making their debut in China.  They have since appeared in European and North American locales:  In fact, there's talk of bringing such services to the Bronx and other parts of New York City not presently served by Citibike.

I called those dockless programs, which allow anyone with the company's app on his or her smart phone to pick up or leave a bicycle, "Uber for bicycles."

Now--you guessed it--Uber is getting into the bike share business.  I am not surprised, really:  If the future is in driverless cars (the Force forbid!) or fewer or no cars, it makes perfect sense for the company to look at other forms of transportation.

Uber is doing something to many other companies failed to do:  look at the industry, not the business, of which they are a part.  Some business writer, I forget whom, said the real reason why the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads--at their peak, the world's two largest corporations-- are in the dustbin of history (Funny, isn't it, to quote Marx when talking about business?) is that they didn't realize that they were not just in the railroad business--which was dying in the US--but in the transportation industry.  So, by the time they merged, it was too late to save either of them.

One of the better analogies I can think of in the bicycle world is Schwinn.  They failed to see their role in the bicycle industry, which changed dramatically.  That is why the company started by Ignaz Schwinn in the 1890s didn't start making (or even offering) BMX or mountain bikes until other bike makers, some of them newcomers, had already taken hold of those markets.  The company's management seemed to think that its industry consisted of making and selling people the bikes their parents and grandparents bought--the only difference being that it added derailleurs and skinnier tires to the two-wheeled tanks they'd been making.  

Which reminds me:  For all of the Varsities and Continentals they sold during the '70's Bike Boom, they really missed the boat when, a couple of years in, college students and other young adults started to demand lighter bikes, like the ones offered by European and Japanese makers.  

At that time, the only really lightweight bicycles Schwinn offered were the Paramount and, depending on how you define "lightweight", the Sports Tourer.  The  former was beyond the means of most young people, while the latter was indistinguishable, appearance-wise, from the company's flash-welded bikes.By the time Schwinn started to offer the Japanese-made LeTour and Voyageur, in 1974, the Bike Boom had already crested and people who wanted lighter bikes had already bought Nishikis, Fujis, Motobecanes and Raleighs.

Anyway, it seems like Uber is not falling into the same trap as Schwinn or the railroads.  They are debuting their new share program in Berlin, Germany and, I am sure, will expand into other places.  With the popularity of dockless share programs and the company's name recognition, it seems like Uber has an unbeatable combination--for now.

It'd be nice if they give me credit, though--although it would be nice to be compensated at least as well as someone who created one of the world's most recognized logos.

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