Sean Healy was driving for Uber in Seattle when a passenger offered him an intriguing job. It wasn’t the first time a rider had proposed a new line of work; in the bustling tech scene in Seattle, his passengers often seemed to be scouting for people to hire. But last summer, the person in the backseat of his family’s minivan was the general manager of a company called Ofo.
The man pitched Healy on a new gig-economy job transporting bikes around the city. The work itself sounded just so-so, but the man painted it as something bigger—a vision of a new kind of city, with fewer cars clogging the landscape and a metropolis made safe for people on two wheels. Kind of like Europe. “He seemed like a decent guy,” says Healy, 33. “He wanted to do things that were not just environmentally sustainable but ethically sustainable.”
Ofo’s business is dockless bike sharing, and it was about to launch its US operations in Seattle. Dockless bike share is just the latest of a dozen new approaches to urban mobility in increasingly congested cities. Ride-hailing services, app-powered carpools, on-demand car rentals, electric bikes, scooters, and even self-driving taxis are all jockeying for riders on the streets of American cities. Together they are reinventing the way we navigate urban environments, reducing private car usage, improving traffic and commute times, and cutting emissions.