Uber launches new delivery services as demand for ride-hailing plummets

Uber is launching a pair of new services called Uber Connect and Uber Direct as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic minimizes demand for its traditional ride-hailing business. They are focused 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 users send items to one another.

In New York, Uber says it will offer deliveries of over-the-counter medication from Cabinet stores, while in Portugal, it’s working with the national postal service, CTT, to deliver parcels. In Australia, it’s working with The Green Cross to deliver pet supplies, and it’s also delivering medication in South Africa. Uber says all deliveries will be contact-free to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, Uber Connect is available in over 25 cities across Australia, Mexico, and the US. Uber says the service will offer same-day deliveries, and it will also happen without any contact.

Uber’s ride-hailing business has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In certain cities, it’s seen demand reduction by as much as 70 percent as people obey stay-at-home guidelines and stop traveling. Uber has tried to help its drivers find work in other areas of its business or in other companies entirely, and it’s also launching new services like these to try to find ways to put its fleet of drivers to work.

This isn’t the first time Uber has experimented with offering a courier service. In 2015, the Financial Times notes that it launched UberRush to deliver items like clothing 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 said. “Our primary focus is the immediate: quickly adapting our technology to meet the evolving needs of communities and companies.”

These are just the latest new services being offered by Uber as it attempts to respond to the pandemic. At the beginning of April, its Uber Eats business launched new partnerships to deliver groceries and other items from local shops in France, Spain, and Brazil.