Uber launching uberPOOL for carpooling

Sharing a taxi in New York City can be a crapshoot for riders and most efforts to encourage doubling up were left in the dust.

But with Uber announcing its starting a carpool service next week, there’s potential to make cab sharing viable for riders who could save up to half the cost of a fare, transportation experts said.

The uberPOOL service now in San Francisco and Paris matches up passengers; destinations and routes that overlap enough for a rider to save at least 20%, then lets up to four people split a fare. The riders get picked up and dropped off along the route. Drivers get dispatch requests based on distance, according to Uber.

“At any given minute in New York there are tons of what we call ‘look-alike’ trips,” said Rachel Holt, Uber’s east coast general manager.

Using Uber’s example, a rider sharing a cab with another person could pay $7.50 for a $15, 10-minute trip between Williamsburg and the East Village. The size of the savings for passengers depends on how long they share the car from the low-cost Uber X service.

As for running afoul of any regulations, TLC-licensed cars and drivers can carpool if passengers agree , according to the agency; riders who want to share a yellow taxi need to be at the same place, however.

“People do it now, informally,” said Sarah Kaufman of NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation. “But allowing them to do it formally would make a big difference, especially during shift changes and rainy days — at times when taxis aren’t as widely available.”

She said Uber’s consumer base could let riders feel more at ease with sharing a taxi. If popular, the TLC and the industry could start experimenting with ways to encourage more passengers to share rides and split costs, she said.

“Every time Uber does something new, it encourages the systems in place to move forward,” Kaufman said.

Other companies have set up taxi carpooling services in New York City, such as Via and CabWithMe, a service that lets passengers find others taking similar routes.

CabWithMe founder Josh Wittman said his app would benefit if uberPOOL is a success.

“They’re a market leader. If they’re introducing this concept, they have the power to influence behavior,” he said.

Whether drivers will like this new service remains to be seen; they were only told that New York City will get uberPOOL Tuesday.

Drivers were sent an instructional video and can attend one of the 20 in-person information sessions this week.

Uber contends that rides will be longer and that drivers will have less dwell time between trips — factors that it said boosted driver incomes in the other cities with uberPOOL.

But all taxi drivers could see fewer pickup opportunities if Uber customers are piling into cars.

“If you have diminishing fares and an increased number of drivers going after them … you’re going to have reckless driving, you’re going to have a lot of fare gouging and you’re going to have accidents,” said Professor Graham Hodges, a former hack and taxi historian who teaches at Colgate University.

The way Uber and other companies use have set up taxi carpooling is a technological leap from the city’s past efforts  in setting up hubs to share yellow taxis for a flat rate at hubs.

Those pilot programs fizzled, but the taxi carpool areas at Port Authority to 59th Street at Sixth Avenue and 79th Street to Wall Street survived.
Matthew Daus, a TLC chief under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said the problem with the city’s carpool effort was getting the right mix of drivers and people who want to share a cab at peak times and rush hour.

“New Yorkers are in a hurry, time is money for cabdrivers,” Daus explained of the city’s difficulties in cab carpooling.

He said building a carpooling system for taxis is “pretty much impossible” without an app.

“It’ll be one more sustainable option for the city,” Daus said. “I think we should try to figure out ways to facilitate it and make it work.”

Update: Uber said Wednesday that its uberPOOL service in New York City will publicly launch early next week, not Thursday, as it had originally planned, due to additional testing.

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