Nicknamed “UberPOOL”, the new feature gives users the ability to find other riders travelling to roughly the same destination at the same time and then split the fair across a maximum of three passengers.
Much like car-pooling, Uber says the new function will reduce congestion, slash travel fees and concentrate drivers along major thoroughfares.
Launching on April 3 in select areas of Sydney, Uber will gauge public reactions and experiences using the function before rolling it out across other Australian markets.
Here’s how it works: A user first requests an UberPOOL ride, and is directed to walk to a “dynamic designated pick up spot”.
From there, the Uber driver will pick up the passenger and continue along a roughly-similar journey to a second pick up spot to accept more passengers.
UberPOOL is not a door-to-door service, so users are warned there will be some walking involved.
Henry Greenacre, Uber’s Australia and New Zealand general manager, said the new service is designed to reduce the number of empty cars during peak-hour traffic.
“We know there are a huge number of Uber trips happening every single day in and around Sydney. We also know we have a serious problem with traffic congestion, especially during our morning commutes,” Greenacre told 9Finance.
“What UberPOOL brings is a systematic way of getting more people into fewer cars, and getting people to share the cost of each of their rides.”
Greenacre said that Uber had “heavily invested” in the launch of UberPOOL in order to offer early-adopters discounts of up to 50 percent on traditional UberX trips.
“I think over time we need to create momentum because the more people that use UberPOOL, the more discounts we can offer,” said Greenacre.
“So we’re investing pretty heavily in that 50 percent discount to really get the ball rolling, but we think those discounts will stabilise at the 30 percent mark over time.”
In Los Angeles, where UberPOOL is widely used, more than 5 million trips were taken in the first eight months after launching.
Greenacre assured 9Finance that Uber has protocols in place to ensure that riders are safe when sharing a vehicle with people they don’t know.
“The important thing to remember here is that every single Uber trip is tracked – you can share your exact location with friends and family wherever you are,” said Greenacre.
“What we really rely on is our riders and drivers giving us their feedback on other riders in the car so we can remove any bad actors from the platform straight away.
“So we really stand behind our safety features and we’re really confident people will enjoy their ride with someone else – it’s a great way to meet other people.”
Because riders are picked up along the journey, Greenacre says its key that all parties know where the pick-up zone is and that they are on time.
“There is a cancellation fee which comes into effect 2 minutes after the driver arrives at the location of the second rider,” said Greenacre.
“We do encourage drivers to ring riders if they can’t find them immediately.”
Users will not have the ability to rate other riders in the vehicle, but the driver will have an opportunity to rate each individual passenger.
Greenacre says at first the experience will feel “a little bit strange”, but insists that carpooling is a great way to cut costs.
“In terms of UberPOOL etiquette, the first one is to make sure you’re at the right pickup location and on-time – you don’t want to keep anyone waiting,” said Greenacre.
“Another one is to try and keep your personal phone calls for another time, and thirdly is just to be sensitive to whether other people want to chat or not.”
If successful in Sydney, the service is expected to roll out to users in Melbourne in the coming months.