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Uber just introduced a new carpooling feature called — what else — an UberPool. If you’re headed the same direction as another Uber passenger, the app will match you to them. You can share the ride, splitting the costs via Uber’s app fare share feature. You’ll be notified whether the driver is picking you or the other person up first.
“UberPool” will appear in the Uber app itself as one of the options, alongside uberX, Uber Black, UberSUV, and UberTaxi. If the app fails to find an UberPool match for you, it will actually discount your ride — perhaps a promotional tactic to convince users to test out the experience. For now, UberPool is in beta, launching for a select group of users in the SF Bay Area starting August 15th.
Carpooling with a stranger might freak some people out, but it was the initial premise behind ridesharing. Consumers might be willing to make the leap to save a few bucks…especially consumers addicted to ridesharing…who work in professions that aren’t hugely lucrative…like journalism…yeah, I really want in on this beta trial.
In the blog post announcing the news, Uber admitted it could take some adjustment for riders, “This [is] a bold social experiment. There’s the interaction between riders in an UberPool—should they talk to each other? When is that cool and when is it, well, annoying?”
Other questions I could see arising are “Why won’t my creeper UberPool partner stop hitting on me?” and “What is the odor emanating from my UberPool partner?”
Of course, those questions will be moot if there’s a pleasing answer to one particular query: “How much money did I save by UberPooling?” When the price is right, some riders — like me — will stomach the occasional creepers and the crazy people.
The extroverts among us might even welcome the serendipitous social networking opportunity. You could wind up sharing an UberPool with your future client, seed investor, significant other, boss, or best friend.
At first glance, UberPool might seem like a counter-productive development for Uber from a business perspective. Why would it want to cut down on the number of passengers taking individual rides? That means less money for Uber and the drivers.
But it actually fits perfectly with Uber’s purported mission — to replace people’s need for personal cars. For a long time, Uber has said it’s not going after the taxi sector, it’s trying to take on the automotive industry. It wants Ubers to be so cheap that people take them to get everywhere instead of owning cars or using public transportation. The company blog post ran the math on how UberPools could further that endeavor.
“On average, uberX already costs 40% less than taxi. Imagine reducing that cost by up to another 40%…At these price points, Uber really is cost-competitive with owning a car, which is a game-changer for consumers.”
Funny enough, the new feature takes Uber into the territory of one of its competitors — Lyft. Once upon a time, Lyft was known as Zimride, a carpooling company that matched people taking long trips in the same direction. Lyft was a breakout experiment under the Zimride umbrella, and it when it took off with users the company shuttered the original product.
Perhaps Uber took some inspiration from its biggest ridesharing rival?