Uber’s Latest Feature Reinvents the Wheels on the Bus

Linear transportation routes carrying riders who walk the last few blocks from their origins and to their destinations. Sound familiar? Image: Uber
Linear transportation routes carrying riders who walk the last few blocks from their origins and to their destinations. Sound familiar? Image: Uber

Uber is rolling out a new feature that will encourage people who use its shared-ride service in New York to walk to the nearest intersection, instead of getting picked up at their door. The company hopes that by avoiding looping through congested Manhattan to pick up and drop off multiple people, it will make trips faster and easier — but Uber is trying to solve a problem that buses solved generations ago.

Jarrett Walker at Human Transit has more:

Walking further for more direct, useful, and affordable service is the basic deal that fixed route transit has offered for more than a century. What’s more, if you walk to the bus instead of to UberPool, you can get on any bus instead of waiting for your specific UberPool to arrive.

UberPOOL is a form of “demand responsive transit,” Walker explains, which in developed nations, typically works for only two markets: wealthy people who are willing to pay high fares for a direct ride, or paratransit services for seniors and disabled people, which typically requires enormous subsidies.

What UberPOOL is attempting to offer the general public — door-to-door service, or something close to it, while turning a profit — might make some sense in lower-density areas. But since this latest “innovation” is in Manhattan, Walker says, it shows that “in big cities” Uber is “clearly converging on something for which fixed route transit is already the ideal tool.”

What’s more, relying on Uber in dense places like Manhattan, even if it offers carpools, is bound to create congestion. Squeezing that many cars on city streets is a recipe for disaster, and research in New York City shows that the proliferation of ride-hail trips is slowing down everyone and getting bus riders stuck in traffic.

The primary innovation of Uber and its competitors remains the apps that “have helped smooth out inefficiencies of communication,” Walker writes, “but they will never change the math. Technology never changes geometry.”

More recommended reading today: Seattle Transit Blog looks at Boise’s streetcar proposal and is worried that Idaho’s capital city is going after a shiny new project instead of actual transportation improvements. Streets.mn says Minneapolis needs to stop debating the merits of its downtown skyway system and instead focus on improving the streets. And Mobility Lab looks at statistics from Seattle showing that people who work near protected bikeways are more likely to bike to work.

  • jeremy

    A great feature would be for Uber to make it impossible to request a pickup in a location where you can’t pull over without stopping in a bike lane or double parking. People can walk an extra block or couple blocks to respect other people

  • david vartanoff

    not to mention Bus Stops! The great joke about AVs will be whether they are actually programmed to obey traffic regs, red curbs, transit stops, etc. and whether they will be user hackable.

  • JudenChino

    The 3rd street bike lane in Gowanus (completely faded) is also the Whole Foods pick-up/drop-off spot for Uber. And for bonus points, despite being “Green” with a huge parking lot, Citibike is a kitty-corner, across the not so pleasant to cross 3rd ave, and not, at, Whole Foods itself.

  • cjstephens

    So, in other words, Uber is going to be using the same technology that Via has been using in NYC for years?

  • baklazhan

    Sooner or later, NYC will have to implement some sort of congestion charge.

    Apart from that, Uber is just throwing out ideas of how to provide service in a way that doesn’t lose money. The VC funding will run out eventually. Time will tell.

  • Vooch

    it’s physically impossible to place Citibike stations adjacent to subway stations.

    citibike stations must be at least 1 block away from subway stations.

    it’s for the children

    /s

  • D’BlahZero

    It would be amazing if the Uber ‘innovation’ could help teach people that being dropped off immediately in front of their destination is not a right and frequently not even in their own best interest, much less that of others. (accessibility needs excepted)

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Let’s keep in mind, this is Uber. Uber only cares about making money. Uber is floating this idea, not to reduce congestion, but to make more money.

    UberPool is not this wonderful idea to reduce congestion and save the environment. It is simply a way for them to make more money from fewer drivers. Let me demonstrate how evil UberPool is:

    Speaking from the Los Angeles market… In Los Angeles, an Uber driver is paid $0.675 per mile and $0.1125 per minute. On a 10-mile/1-hour drive to downtown Los Angeles an Uber driver earns $13.50 (out of which he needs to cover all expenses). On the same route an Uber drivers earns on an UberPool ride $0.6375 per mile and $0.0825 per minute; or $11.32. Yes you read that correctly, The Uber driver earns 16% less to drive UberPool.

    O.K., what if the ride is unmatched or matched doesn’t the driver earn more – No! If it is a regular UberX ride, the driver earns $13.50. If it is an UberPool ride without at match, the rider earns $11.32. If the UberPool ride has a match or multiple matches, the drivers still earns, yes you guessed it, $11.32. Basically, with UberPool the driver does twice the work (pick-ups and drop-offs) for 16% less money.

    So how does Uber make more money by implementing a corner-side pick-up? Uber does throw a small bone to Uber Drivers; Uber pays for the additional distance to pick up and drop off the additional riders (see the “Before” picture above). So the driver may earn $12.00 for the UberPool rides instead $11.32. So the driver now does twice the work for 11% less money. With corner-side pick-ups, Uber reduces its driver expense. But wait there’s more… The rider pays an upfront flat rate. The rider will be charged for the extra distance regardless. Furthermore, Uber receives a booking fee for each pick-up ($1.85 in Los Angeles) plus $0.50 for an additional rider. The driver does not share in these feeds.

    I realize from the outside, UberPool looks like a great idea. Turn rideshare into sharing the ride. But in reality, it is simply a way to double up driver work while paying them 10 to 20% less. It is also a way for Uber to double-up on fee income (not shared with the driver). Also keep in mind, when you rate the driver at the end of your Uber ride, you are rating the driver not Uber. So Uber sends the driver instructions to pick up a rider at an intersection, but the rider had to walk two blocks in the rain. The rider is wet and upset, he rates the driver 1-star. Not because the driver gave a bad ride, but due to Uber’s policies. The driver then gets an email from Uber regarding professionalism. The driver looses again.

    So Streetsblog readers and writers, do not use UberPool. Yes it may make you feel like you are reducing congestion and reducing your carbon footprint. But in reality, you are increasing the revenue of Uber on the back of a driver who makes less than minimum wage after expenses.

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