Your Private Driver: Everyone Out of the Pool

(This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Monday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.)

When it was announced almost two years ago, UberPool seemed like a logical next step in the evolution of ridesharing. If two separate people or groups of people are going in the same direction, why not use one car to take them instead of two? Reduce traffic, save money, save the environment, yada yada yada.

Today the UberPool experiment is apparently a success with the service available in 45 cities around the world. Passengers get a cheaper fare for giving up a private car, and drivers get less downtime. Seems like a win-win. So why is it so frequently a miserable experience for some passengers, and why do drivers hate it with an almost irrational vitriol?

On the passenger side, most of the frustration comes from not understanding the extra limitations placed on UberPool rides.

  • You’re limited to one or two riders. This should be obvious, but people are legitimately confused why they can’t take three people in an UberPool.
  • The wait time is considerably shorter before the driver pulls away. In most cases a driver will wait at least five minutes at your pickup location, which provides time to clear up any issues with parking or pin placement. UberPool will only allow two minutes (and there’s a timer built in to the driver app to keep track) of waiting. Unless your feet are already on the curb, there’s a good chance your driver may leave without you.
  • You can’t change your destination or make multiple stops. Point A to B only. This led to a really awkward situation two nights ago when a Pool passenger put in the wrong destination by mistake, completely inconveniencing the second passenger in the car and just making my life more difficult overall.
  • Picking up and dropping off extra riders takes time. Riders in a hurry may not realize this and are upset when their ride to the airport takes 15 to 30 minutes longer than they were expecting.

As UberPool is also the default pickup option in markets where it’s available, many riders end up picking Pool by accident and are frustrated when the driver picks up an extra passenger that the original rider allegedly didn’t sign up for. This frustration is unfortunately taken out on the driver’s rating, which can have some extremely negative consequences.

The risk of punishment via low ratings from angry riders is just one reason why drivers on various discussion forums consistently rate UberPool as one of the things they dislike the most. The biggest reason is that drivers are actually making less money for all the extra hassle.

For starters, UberPool rates are lower than the standard UberX rates in all markets. In Los Angeles, for example, UberPool rates are 85 cents per mile and 11 cents per minute compared to UberX rates of 90 cents per mile and 15 cents per minute. Not a significant discount, but it’s a discount that comes out of the driver’s pocket for no reason.

Secondly, when two UberPool passengers are matched, a driver is paid for one trip instead of two, with the passengers splitting the fare. Uber actually double-dips by charging a service fee and a commission for each paying passenger before giving the driver their cut. Yup, one trip, two commissions. That’s fair. As if to justify the fact that they’re double billing, UberPool trips are split in half on drivers’ pay statements, with each paying rider counting as one trip. After the split and the extra commission and fees, drivers have seen insultingly low per-trip payouts.

Given the inability to actually opt of of taking UberPool fares, the general consensus among veteran drivers is to not accept them at all. Why would they? More hassle, more stress, and less money wouldn’t motivate any sane person to get with the program. Those who still do take Pool trips (likely because of per-trip incentive programs in some markets) discuss ways of making the ride as miserable as possible for passengers in order to dissuade them from ever ordering an UberPool again.

It’s unlikely that UberPool is going anywhere despite how much it sucks. Riders are naturally magnetically attracted to the possibility of a lower fare even if they complain about it the entire time, new drivers won’t realize the Pool pay scam for a while, and the company itself sees UberPool as a weapon in their quest for growth. (That Uber places more importance on growth than profitability should solve the debate once and for all over whether it is a technology company or not.) Still, if you insist on car-pooling because you really think it’s a better option, at least know what you’re getting into and what you’re potentially putting your driver through.

More on this subject…
Motherboard: Why Everyone Hates UberPOOL
LAist: Uber Pool: Why Drivers and Passengers Don’t Like It
The Rideshare Guy: What Should Drivers Expect From UberPool?

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!

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