UberPool is back in U.S. cities
Shared rides could be a welcome price break for riders in big U.S. cities
Today is the first of three rail strikes this week in England, and transportation as expected is a mess. People are being advised not to travel as much as possible, with half of all rail lines closed as well as London-wide strikes on the Tube and other TfL services. Workers are walking out over job cuts, conditions, pay, and pensions; rail union RMT general secretary Mick Lynch says turnout so far has been “fantastic.” The result for regular people who need to get places is that they are being forced to find other means of transport, which in most cases means by car:
Today alone, traffic surged in a number of UK cities, with location technology company TomTom finding congestion levels at 11am were higher than at the same time last week.
The areas included London, which saw an increase of on-road congestion from 38% on 14 June to 51% earlier, Cardiff (from 24% to 29%), Liverpool (from 24% to 30%), Manchester (from 27% to 34%) and Newcastle (from 18% to 20%).
There are also huge queues for Uber Boat, which runs along the Thames, and demand is so high for ride-hail services that it reportedly caused both Uber’s and rival firm Bolt’s apps to crash this morning. (Uber denied to City A.M. that its app had been down.) Uber has capped surge in response to the huge surge in demand, a move it usually reserves for states of emergency, but plenty of riders are still complaining of extortionate fares.
Lime, which is part of the London e-scooter trial and also operates the Jump e-bikes originally launched by Uber, told me that during the last Tube strike on Monday June 6, total ridership on all modes jumped 44% compared to the previous Monday. Other stats Lime shared from the June 6 strike vs. Monday May 30:
First trips taken increased by +150%
New accounts created +144%
E-scooter trips increased by +95%
First e-scooter trips taken increased by +162%
Have you been affected by the rail strikes? Send your transit horror story (or tale of micromobility vindication!) to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Uber is bringing back shared rides in U.S. cities for the first time since the pandemic. The former UberPool is being relaunched as UberX Share which let me just say is an objectively worse name. Per Uber, riders who choose Share will get a discount that can be up to 20% based on whether they match with another rider. Share rides are also designed to be no more than 8 minutes longer than a solo UberX. There’s some additional boilerplate on how putting more people in fewer cars helps to reduce gas use and emissions, though notably no mention of congestion, which by now we’re pretty sure ride-hail actually makes worse.
Uber rival Lyft, which also paused shared rides during covid, resumed its program in July 2021 with tweaks aimed to make shared rides more reliable and efficient. For instance, Lyft now lets riders book shared rides up to 30 minutes in advance, and says rides booked earlier are more discounted.
Uber was testing Pool/Share in a handful of markets ahead of today’s wider relaunch. It brought shared rides back to Perth, Australia, in March 2021, and started piloting the rebranded UberX Share in the U.S. in Miami last November. The Miami pilot trialed a slightly different model where Share riders got an instant discount plus an additional Uber Cash reward for matching with another rider.
Why has it taken so long for Uber to bring shared rides back to U.S. cities? Business Insider reported last July that Pool, by far Uber’s cheapest ride option with discounts of up to 50%, was losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year and at times close to $1 billion when rider and driver subsidies were tallied. Any plans to relaunch Pool had to align with Uber’s new focus on profitability, which in this case meant slashing discounts and designing a service that no longer operated at a loss. According to BI, current and former employees who worked on Pool bemoaned the idea of changing the service in a way that would reduce its focus on decreasing congestion, though as I said before, it’s unclear whether Pool ever accomplished that, and ride-hail generally has been shown to make congestion in cities worse not better. What seems more pertinent is that with gas prices through the roof and the cost of an UberX up 40% from three years ago, Uber is probably looking for ways to give customers a break on prices without taking too big a hit on the bottom line, which seems exactly like what this new iteration of shared rides is designed to do.
A couple weeks ago I ran an interview with Stephanie Hare, author of Technology Is Not Neutral: A Short Guide to Technology Ethics. In that chat, Steph mentions how the state of Illinois has some of the strongest privacy and biometrics protections of anywhere in the U.S. I mention this because Illinois is now extending its data privacy protections to delivery apps:
Illinois restaurants will have another layer of protection from predatory delivery apps starting January 1, 2023, when the Fair Food and Retail Delivery Act, signed into law last Friday by Governor J.B. Pritzker, goes into effect. The law prohibits third-party delivery apps from posting menus, logos, or any other intellectual property of restaurants without their express written consent; if they do, restaurants can sue for damages of $5,000, whichever is greater.
As Eater notes, delivery apps often scrape and/or post restaurant menus without first getting permission. Grubhub was sued in October 2020 in a class action in California and North Carolina for listing 150,000 restaurants on its platform without permission, causing in the words of the plaintiffs, “significant damage to their hard-earned reputations, loss of control over their customers’ dining experiences, loss of control over their online presence, and reduced consumer demand for their services.”
Things I’ve published for paid Oversharing subscribers in the past week:
Massachusetts high court tosses gig worker classification ballot measure, in blow to Uber. Gig companies coalition hires lobbying firm KDCR. Lyft bikeshare Divvy’s new pricing unaffordable to many residents. Uber raising fares in Phoenix metro area to offset pay increase for drivers struggling with high gas prices. Lyft settles claims it hid safety problems ahead of IPO for $25 million. The Hague bans new dark stores from shopping areas, residential streets. Rahm Emanuel’s ‘Train Geek’ Diplomacy Is a Hit in Japan. Luxembourg developing its own app-based taxi service. Helbiz plans to acquire Wheels. German travel booking startup Omio raises $80 million. Czech grocery delivery startup Rohlik raises €220 million. Grocery-delivery company Buggy buys instant delivery startup Ninja. Frederick county nonprofit may scale back subsidized Lyft rides program. Lime debuts electric motorbike. Grubhub adds instant pay option for delivery drivers. Instacart rebrands subscription service as Instacart+. Waitr partners with 7-Eleven. Gorillas Startup Dream of Food Delivery and Office Raves Falters. Gorillas Explores Options, Weighed Deals With Delivery Rivals. Gorillas poised for job cuts in Spain. Deliveroo expands Hop rapid delivery program. GoPuff “only sees strength” amid instant delivery crash. UK tech job listings down 20% over past three months.