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Do you have a high threshold for enduring awkward meetings with strangers, particularly in confined spaces? Good news! You could soon start taking UberPOOL to travel around the District.
The ride-sharing company announces today that it will launch its growing carpooling service in D.C. on Thursday, Oct. 22. That means District residents who have gripes about Metro in the form of safety or reliability concerns will have an additional means of transportation to and from work. UberPOOL allows app-users to split the cost of trips since drivers don’t have to wait as long between passengers: The app uses an algorithm to determine the most efficient route for riders going in the same direction, with room for up to two riders per pickup. The major trade-offs are that riders may have to go slightly out of their way to designated pick-up spots and that their trips may be marginally longer than if they had used UberX, the company’s most popular product.
“In a city that faces significant congestion and traffic gridlock, UberPOOL will become an even more important supplement to D.C.’s transportation system, helping to alleviate this crippling issue by increasing average car occupancy, reducing the need for owning multiple vehicles, and eventually taking cars off the road,” Uber spokesperson Taylor Bennett wrote in a statement. “During the initial launch period we’ll be working closely with riders and driver-partners to optimize the experience and fine-tune the product so it’s just as reliable and efficient as the UberX they know and love.”
Uber’s carpooling service currently operates in five other U.S. cities: New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin, and San Francisco. The latter has seen it for more than a year, and nearly half of all Uber’s trips there come through it. According to the company’s website, riders can save “up to 50 percent” using UberPOOL rather than UberX; in New York, fares for UberPOOL were “at least 15 percent cheaper” than those for UberX as of September. Launched in December 2014 in New York, Uber’s carpooling trips in the city grew an average 28 percent per month over the course of nine months, totaling 1.5 million trips, according to Uber data.
How quickly and to what degree UberPOOL gains traction in the District remains to be seen. When the product first appeared in New York, some riders may have experienced what a Wall Street Journal article described as “lonely” trips—those where people couldn’t find matches in order to carpool. Drivers, meanwhile, will have to decide for themselves whether carpooling is worth it: Since they’re independent contractors (or “partners,” as the company calls them), Uber can’t compel them to participate.
“While riders get to split the cost between them, drivers spend more time earning money on longer trips,” Bennett explains. “…We’ll be emailing drivers to alert them of the addition of UberPOOL and the training program provided prior to launch.”
Carpooling brings its own cultural challenges, especially in a multi-modal city where most people don’t take car services to work on a given day. That may change with time and technology, but for now poses the question: How should carpool-riders behave?
Photo from Flickr user Adam Fagen