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Uber Will Start Offering Shared Rides in DC

Photograph via iStock.

Uber says it will introduce its shared-ride service, called UberPool, in the DC market starting October 22, a company spokesman says. The new travel mode enables drivers to pick up multiple passengers who are traveling in the same general direction from different points and drop them off at their preferred destination.

The spokesman, Taylor Bennett, says the pooled-ride option allows riders to pay lower fares and drivers on the UberX platform to extend their trips and collect more. The service was first introduced in August 2014 in San Francisco, and has since expanded to Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Austin, Paris, and Bangalore, India.

Uber has long allowed multiple riders on the same trip to split fares, but UberPool, which will appear as a separate option on the app’s main menu, is a bit more complex: Person A wants to get to Point A, but en route, the driver picks up Person B, whose destination may be on the way to Point A or a bit further, but in the same general direction. It also enables groups of Uber users who get in together to request multiple drop-offs. Unlike Uber’s other services, the pool option requires customers to enter their destination and number of passengers in their party before requesting a car.

While Uber is undoubtedly keen to play up the possibility of smaller rider costs, launching UberPool next week gets its ride-splitting platform in one of the company’s biggest markets ahead of LyftLine, a similar service offered by its closest competitor, Lyft. Uber cannot claim credit for popularizing a carpool option, though; that goes to Sidecar, which runs a distant third place among ride-hailing apps. Split, a DC company launched last spring, also offers an app that connects with a fleet of drivers offering carpool-style trips.

Bennett says Uber will notify its local drivers today that the pool option is coming, but specifics for both customers and drivers are scant right now. The company has not specified what UberPool’s fares will be. Bennett says passengers will only split costs when there are multiple riders in a car, but the base fare for customers who wind up going solo in a car on pool service will pay less than what they would on the Uberx platform. Drivers, from whom Uber typically take 20- to 25-percent cuts, have also not been told how pooled rides might affect their earnings.

Members of UberPeople.net, a message board inhabited by the app’s drivers, have been mixed in response to hints the pool service is coming to DC. “[I] think it may be GREAT for the suburbs, [especially] for far out greater Maryland. Like if [I’m] dropping off in the sticks and [I’m] 5 [minutes] away with a [passenger] , [it’s] better to get me, than to get the next available [U]ber 25 [minutes] away,” writes one user.

Others are less hopeful. “This won’t work in practice,” writes another driver, “…much like self driving cars or Uber eats… It’s a bunch of tech bros masturbating to their ‘innovation.’ “

Bennett says the pool option has been popular in the cities where it’s been rolled out, with 50 percent of the company’s logged rides in San Francisco now occurring under the UberPool banner. In theory, more shared rides provided by car-hailing apps like Uber could push urban populations like Washington’s further away from reliance on car ownership to live and work. In Washington, though, the addition of shared rides could make Uber even more alluring to disaffected Metro passengers, more of whom are giving up on the troubled rail system for other commuting options.

“Our big vision is to make personal vehicles not a necessity,” Bennett says.

While that might be Uber’s big agenda, UberPool, in just a little more than a year, has earned a reputation as an impromptu dating service, with riders getting in cars figuring they’ll be dropped off separately, but deciding to get out together. Could Uber also have its sights on displacing Tinder as DC’s hookup app of choice?

Says Bennett: “We think people will be excited to save money and meet new people.”

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.