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MIT Technology Review

Uber Freight Will Bring Surge Pricing to the Trucking Business

With the quiet launch of Uber Freight, the ride-sharing giant takes aim at disrupting the massive industry of hauling stuff by 18-wheeler.

October 26, 2016

Hardly a day goes by without a new headline from Uber. Today’s is a move that probably a lot of people have seen coming ever since Uber bought the self-driving-truck firm Otto: behold the soft launch of Uber Freight, a service that, Business Insider reports, aims to connect shippers and trucking companies in much the same way as the original Uber app connects riders and drivers.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been clear for a while now that his company is interested in getting into trucking. It makes sense—in the trucking industry, brokers usually help someone who wants to ship goods find a truck to do the hauling. Uber has risen to global prominence using almost exactly this model, acting as the middleman between people looking for a ride and drivers working on contract (though a few questionable business tactics and creative marketing strategies haven’t hurt either).

Still, Uber seems to be moving awfully fast—Otto only just made its first commercial delivery with a self-driving truck, and by all accounts it’s still very much a fledgling company. Trucking in the U.S., by contrast, is enormous: in 2014, 11 million large trucks drove over 279 billion miles.

Perhaps in acknowledgement that it’s going to be a while before self-driving trucks take to the roads en masse, Uber Freight won’t be billed as an autonomous-trucking service during its trial period or when it officially launches early next year. The company says it is happy to gradually phase Otto’s trucks in as they prove themselves ready. Until then, Uber Freight’s primary function will be as a “marketplace” that will bring Uber’s expertise in dynamic pricing to an industry it considers hidebound and inefficient.

In other words, if you’re in a line of work that relies on using trucks to move goods around, say hello to surge pricing.

(Read more: Business Insider, “My Self-Driving Uber Needed Human Help,” “Otto’s Self-Driving 18-Wheeler Has Made Its First Delivery”)