Good news for New Yorkers who like deals and don’t mind sharing a cab ride with a complete stranger or two: Uber is sending out notices on Monday that its carpool service will now be a flat $5, but only in Manhattan below 110th Street and only during the peak hours of 7–10AM and 5–8PM, Monday through Friday.
There’s another catch, though, and this is a big one: Uber says riders will be prompted to walk a few blocks to a particular intersection in order to align the routes more efficiently. In other words, in order to qualify for the cheap fare, you’ll need to hoof it to what is essentially a bus stop, but for Uber. And there may be more walking involved at the end of your ride, because your driver will likely drop you off a few blocks from your actual destination. Again, this is in the service of efficiency, Uber says. “Corner pickups and drop-offs make driving routes more direct, so you'll save time and arrive at your destination faster,” the company says in a blog post.
Uber says its newly cheap, more walky UberPool is just “a pilot,” but one without a specific end date in mind. Riders are encouraged to give feedback on their experiences through the app via their trip receipts. There won’t be any specific message to riders from the company about rewarding or penalizing their drivers based on their UberPool experience, which may upset those drivers who dislike UberPool because of its often negative effect on their ratings.
Still, drivers who accept UberPool trip requests will be paid UberX rates by time and distance, with Uber pledging to make up the difference. If that sounds expensive — Uber could end up eating $20–30 per fare — keep in mind the company has raised over $10 billion in capital and is valued at $62.5 billion, so it has money to burn.
The $5 flat fee is a sign that Uber is incredibly bullish about its carpool service and is looking to grow its already growing ridership. Last month, the company announced that 100,000 New Yorkers were using UberPool each week, double the number of riders from six months before.
Uber often promotes UberPool as a key aspect of its future as a company, touting its ability to reduce automobile emissions and get “more butts in seats.” UberPool does appear to be at odds with the company's recent pronouncements of being complimentary to public transportation. If UberPool transforms into a full-fledged private bus line, it's hard to see how the company can continue to make those claims.
This isn’t the first time Uber has tried to model its carpool service on a city bus route. Last December, Uber announced it was piloting a new feature called UberHop in Seattle, in which multiple riders who are traveling a similar route are paired with the same driver. These riders are given directions to a pick-up location and a time when the driver will arrive. The rider is expected to walk a little ways to the pick-up location, as well as to their final destination from the drop-off location.
Before that, Uber announced fixed-rate rides between San Francisco and Silicon Valley in the hopes of appealing to commuters who weren't inclined to use public transportation like buses or the BART train. Tellingly, the team that developed UberHop was the same group of engineers behind this redesign of UberPool.