One day not long ago, an Uber driver picked up a passenger in San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin district. Let’s call our passenger Abby, because her real name has been lost to database anonymization, an effort to keep her identity private.
Abby needed to go to Noe Valley, a 25-minute drive that might ordinarily have cost about $15. But she had chosen UberPool, the ride-hailing company’s 18-month-old car-pooling program. In the process she had unwittingly initiated one of the service’s more epic recent trips.
Unlike a standard Uber ride, in which a single rider starts a one-time trip, UberPool works like a party line for cars. Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and chief executive, describes it as the future of his company — and thus the future of transportation in America.
Call up the app, specify your destination, and in exchange for a significant discount, UberPool matches you with other riders going the same way. The service might create a ride just for you, but just as often, it puts you in a ride that began long ago — one that has spanned several drop-offs and pickups, a kind of instant bus line created from collective urban demand.
The trip Abby started would last nearly an hour and meander over 10 miles across San Francisco, stopping nine times to pick up and drop off passengers. After Abby got in, the driver collected his second passenger — let’s call him Ben — a few blocks away. Ben got out after about a mile. A couple of blocks later, Carrie got in. By this time Abby might have been getting annoyed; fortunately, about six minutes later, the car reached Noe Valley. Abby got out, but Carrie was still in the car, so the trip went on. Danny got in after about a mile, then Carrie got out, then Edward got in, then Danny got out. Finally, after about 55 minutes of driving, the car reached Edward’s destination, and the trip was done.
In total, Uber collected about $48 for the ride, of which the driver kept $35. The company had collapsed five separate rides into a single trip, saving about six miles of travel and removing several cars from the road. For riders, the discounts amounted to savings of at least half of a standard Uber trip. For the driver, an hourlong trip with no idle time resulted in steady earnings (Uber drivers make money only when riders are in the car). And though Uber made less from the single ride than it would have from multiple rides, the company benefited by installing itself as a fixture in people’s lives.
“When rides get cheaper, it means that for more people in more cities, Uber is cheaper than owning a car,” Mr. Kalanick said in a recent interview. “And when Uber is cheaper than owning a car, we can become a mainstay of transportation in that city.”
Learn more: Car-Pooling Helps Uber Go the Extra Mile
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