UberPool and Lyft Line are both ways to cut down your transportation costs by sharing your ride with other passengers headed the same direction. But over the weekend and on Monday, two Uber drivers told me and a colleague that Uber had to temporarily shut down its private beta testing after one day of running it. Lyft, which launched Lyft Line to all iOS users in San Francisco, also appears to be facing logistical issues of its own based on user tweets.
We asked a few Uber drivers about the test period of the company’s new carpooling feature. One called it a “mess” and said after a day of UberPools the company told drivers not to bother taking such requests until it had figured out how to streamline the carpool process. Another driver who spent last Thursday night at the in-person training said that the UberPool option never appeared in his app, despite the fact that he was one of only 300 drivers selected for the beta testing.
Such rough patches are to be expected, given that the whole point of a beta trial is to find and fix the bugs. Uber preemptively predicted as much when it announced the service in its blog post, “Because UberPool is an early beta product, there will undoubtedly be kinks and surprises to work through.”
But it appears Uber is a few big steps behind Lyft in its development of the carpooling feature. The only passengers taking UberPool are Uber employees and staff from Google, the company’s most recent investor. The Uber drivers were trained for the first time on the carpool option last week following the public announcement. Although Uber is notorious for expanding and executing quickly — frequently ahead of Lyft — in this case it may take a little time for it to catch up to its rival.
In contrast, Lyft has been honing Lyft Line for months, after acquiring another company that had built an API specifically for this purpose. Despite the time it spent in trial-and-error, Lyft still saw hiccups when it opened to the public last week. Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times tweeted about one such problem.
Cheap: $5 ride from downtown to Alamo Square, half off. But we just pulled over to let the other guy off. Too far out of way for him.
— Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo) August 6, 2014
Lev Popov, founder of Rover, the YC startup Lyft acquired to build Lyft Line, tweeted back that the company is working on it.
@fmanjoo we're tuning our matching parameters as live ride data is coming in – expect better matches on your next ride!
— Lev Popov (@levpopov) August 6, 2014
Another user tweeted about confusion from drivers on how to accept Lyft Line ride requests.
The @lyft driver falsely confirmed pickup—at the first Line rider’s location, no less—and dropoff: just got charged. God. Awful.
— Jeff Wear (@wear_here) August 11, 2014
@wear_here Thanks for the feedback – we're working closely with drivers to better explain the function of Lyft Line.
— Lyft (@lyft) August 11, 2014
A third faced similar pickup problems.
Wow. Requested a @lyft line. Then she wasn’t where I requested, then didn’t answer my call, then hung up on me, then marked me as no show.
— Kyle Anne (@explodedsoda) August 10, 2014
[UPDATE: Lyft reached out to me with the following statement about Lyft Line:
We’re already seeing thousands of rides each day and high repeat rates. A significant percentage of all rides are now Lyft Line rides, demonstrating that residents are enjoying this new form of affordable, reliable and convenient personal transit. We will continue to monitor Lyft Line closely and make necessary adjustments to ensure that it’s operating as efficiently as possible for both drivers and passengers.]
The logistics behind an on-demand carpool service can’t be easy, so it’s not surprising that both Uber and Lyft are facing their share of initial problems. If they do manage to iron out the process, Lyft Line and UberPool have the potential to further transform the ridesharing industry – and urban transportation — by opening up new segments of the consumer market who couldn’t previously afford it.
Of course, that’s a big if.