Uber launched its long awaited uberPOOL program on October 22 and I took it for a spin on my commute home to find out the finer details. The system works by hailing a car in the same way you would an UberX or Lyft, except there is a chance for other passengers to join the ride. uberPOOL is very similar to Split, which we covered in a blog a few months ago, and LyftLine, which has not launched in DC yet. However, there are some notable differences.
You can select uberPOOL by sliding the button to the left at the bottom of the Uber app on your phone. The key thing to note with uberPOOL is you will need to enter your destination before you begin your journey. The app needs to know where you are going so it can try to find people traveling along the same route.
After dropping the pin for your pickup location – you will be asked how many seats you need (1 or 2) and to enter your destination address. Adding an additional passenger beyond yourself to the start of the trip costs an additional $0.75 since you are removing one of the potential carpool seats from the journey.
The price quote for your trip is presented to you after entering your initial passenger count and your destination address. The fares are guaranteed to be 25% lower than a normal uberX ride, and are touted to go up as much as 50% below normal ride costs when additional passengers are picked up and you begin to split the fare. Surge pricing still exists but with the bright side of being able to see what your surge-priced ride will cost you before booking the car.
In similar fashion to Split, uberPOOL will wait only an allotted time of two minutes for additional passengers so those in the uberPOOL vehicle already are not inconvenienced. If you miss your ride or cancel after the normal allotted time, you are charged a $5 fee – so the stakes are higher for you to be in the right place at the right time.
Unlike uberX, your current route will not be displayed within the app. Since the route can change throughout your ride, the app cannot give specific directions in case the car needs to make a detour to pick up an additional passenger.
All in all, uberPOOL has the potential to create a cheap alternative for traveling across the DC metro region. However, the carpool option will need a larger user base to be effective. During my initial trip, no additional passengers were found. While that may just be that the app is not yet popular enough, I also noticed that the route my driver took was nearly entirely on major highways.
For uberPOOL to function properly – drivers will need to seek routes that travel through more dense areas where extra passengers can actually be picked up, even if this slows travel by a few minutes. The entire purpose of the app will be negated if the uberPOOL vehicle spends 75% or more of its trip on major highways where no additional pickups are possible. In my 4.3 mile trip yesterday I spent the bulk of it traveling on major state highways and interstates. I understand the desire to get your passenger(s) to their destination in the fastest way possible – but people using uberPOOL should know that their reduced fare may come with a couple slowdowns here and there for the sake of saving money while also reducing congestion.
I’ll look to do a follow up piece on this write-up in a few weeks/months once uberPOOL begins to garner a larger user base. Maybe then additional passengers and the chance of actual carpooling will become a reality.