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Uber Launches New Delivery Services as Demands for Ride-Hailing Screech to a Halt

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Luis Monzon
Luis Monzon
Journalist. Reach me at

Uber is launching a new pair of services called Uber Connect and Uber Direct as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic minimizes demand for its traditional ride-hailing business.

The company has switched focus on moving items rather than people. Uber Direct will offer deliveries from shops like pharmacies and pet stores, while Uber Connect is a same-day courier service to let Uber customers send items to one another.

Uber Across the Globe

In New York, Uber is offering deliveries of over-the-counter medication from Cabinet stores, while in Portugal, the company is working with the national post service, CTT, to deliver parcels.

In Australia, Uber is working with The Green Cross to deliver pet supplies, and it is also delivering medication in South Africa. Uber reiterates that all deliveries will be contact free to help decrease the rate of infection.

Uber Direct in South Africa

The current national lockdown has resulted in essential movement only, affecting retailers and businesses and limiting access to essentials like medication and food, especially for those most vulnerable.

The power of Uber Direct in South Africa is evident in Uber’s recent partnership with The Western Cape Department of Health and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Several NGOs and their critically important community health workers are now able to collect and deliver medication to those most vulnerable to COVID-19. In the first two weeks of the partnership, over 25,000 people received their medication, with many more safe and contactless deliveries being made daily.

Dr. Giovanni Perez, Chief Director of Metro District Health Services at the Western Cape Government Department of Health says, “This partnership is a great example of how the public and private sector can work together, regardless of any challenges, for the well-being of the people.“

Oumar Seydi, Africa Director, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation highlights how important this initiative is as part of the COVID19 response, “Finding innovative ways of protecting the most vulnerable populations is critical at this time and we are honoured to be part of this innovation to get medication in the hands of those who need it most.”

Assisting those in need

Millions of people around South Africa go without food each day, with the lockdown and continued call for self-distancing, this number is expected to increase.

SA Harvest, a food rescue organisation that aims to eradicate food waste, is using Uber Direct to expand and optimise deliveries to their beneficiary organisations in the Western Cape. This ensures more food-vulnerable people are being fed daily and will further allow SA Harvest to expand their deliveries in Gauteng in the coming weeks.

Uber Direct for Businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa

People are looking for ways to get essential goods and other necessities delivered quickly and conveniently, while businesses are looking for an efficient way to reach their customers, however, many may find themselves struggling to meet the demand at this time. Businesses can use Uber Direct to move their goods within their supply chain, and between locations to better balance supply and demand, ensuring customers receive their orders when required.

Alon Lits, Director for Uber Sub-Saharan Africa explains, “This is our broadest effort yet to help businesses meet the unprecedented demand for delivery, and helping people stay at home while still getting the items they need. Uber Direct also allows us to unlock economic opportunities for delivery people and drivers now and beyond the lockdown. Safety continues to be a top priority, and we are regularly providing drivers and delivery people with information to help them stay safe.”

Ride-Hailing Demand Flattened

Uber’s ride-hailing business has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cities, it has seen its demand slashed by as much as 70% as people stick to stay at home guidelines. Uber has been trying to help its drivers find work in other endeavours connected to its business, or in other companies entirely.

Services like Uber Connect and Uber Direct are another attempt to put its vast fleet back to work.

This won’t be the first time the company has experimented with offering a courier service. In 2015, as reported by the Financial Times, Uber launched UberRush – a delivery service offering to courier items of clothing to customers from Nordstrom. However, the service never took off, and Uber shut it down in mid-2018 to focus more of its attention on Uber Eats.

“Throughout this crisis, we’ve been looking for new ways our platform can help move essential goods for businesses and consumers while providing new earning opportunities for drivers,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says.

“Our primary focus is the immediate: quickly adapting our technology to meet the evolving needs of communities and companies.”

Uber continues to struggle as ride-hailing plummets. Just recently, the company announced that it is delaying its latest guidance as it fears for the havoc the pandemic is wreaking on its profit margins.

Edited by Luis Monzon

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