The goal of specified pickup locations is to cut down on travel time and make Uber rides even more efficient than the company's current UberPool model, in which drivers often find themselves driving in circles to pick up additional passengers. Uber is trying to strike a better balance between convenience and efficiency with Express Pool, a new service that asks ride-sharing customers to do a bit more work in exchange for lower fares. Express Pool, which relies on passenger vehicles, is dynamic, with new routes created each time a passenger requests a ride.
Express Pool had been running as a pilot for the past few months in San Francisco and Boston, but today it will roll out in six new cities - Philadelphia, Washington D.C, Miami, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
Like the existing UberPool service, Express Pool groups multiple riders into one vehicle.
"We think carpooling is very much the way of the future", Ethan Stock, director of product for shared rides at Uber, told The Verge. The Uber Express Pool feature is similar to Ola's Ride Express in India, that lets users share cab rides on fixed routes.
A sign outside Uber headquarters in San Francisco.
Instead of going out of the way to pick up other riders, the app will alert an Express Pool rider of a few-minute wait time and/or recommend a short walk to the ideal pickup location to optimize the carpooling ride.
Uber Express' concept is reminiscent of a bus.
"We add a small amount of time, one to two minutes at the beginning of the ride", Stock said. Passengers should expect lower fares, the company said. He attributed this to requiring passengers to walk a block or two to a designated Uber stop, rather than allowing them to wait inside a building.
Longer term, Stock said, Uber wants Express to turn into a multi-day, multi-use option for people with limited or incomplete public transportation options. It is now not available for airport pickups, though Stock said the company is working on adding that feature.
Ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft have been criticized for increasing traffic congestion in big cities. As more people use ride-hailing services, their reliance on public transportation and traditional taxis will decrease.
Cities around the country have started experimenting with microtransit systems to supplement rail and bus networks that are harder to rework and customize on the fly.
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