US ride sharing and smart transport company Uber will launch Australia’s first commercial car-pool network in Sydney next week, in a bid to cut costs for consumers – by up to 50 per cent – and reduce congestion on the city’s roads.
In a statement on Thursday, the company said its uberPOOL app would be available to inner Sydney commuters from Tuesday April 3, giving them the opportunity to cut costs by sharing their ride, and offering what Uber believes will soon be a credible alternative to car ownership.
The app, which will initially cover Uber trips from Bondi, in Sydney’s east, to Leichhardt in the west, and south of the Harbour down to Mossman, matches riders’ destinations with other riders coming from similar locations.
The more people you share with, the cheaper the fare.
But before you start imagining a cramped mini-van with dozens of clowns pouring out of it – or is that just me? – Uber says it will only ever match three riders at any one time, in any one vehicle, “so no one has to sit in that awkward middle seat.”
That said, with the maximum number of riders, the fare can be reduced by as much as 50 per cent for each person, making for a much cheaper trip and, potentially, a good deal less traffic.
Another point worth noting, is that – based on the company’s learnings from its uberPOOL schemes in San Francisco and other parts of the world – the uberPOOL service will not be door-to-door, like uberX.
For the Australian market, Uber has incorporated elements of “walk and wait” into the app, which might not immediately sound like pluses, but according to the company have been introduced by popular demand to make the service more direct.
How it works is that when you enter your destination request, you “wait a few minutes up front” while the trip is matched with as many other riders as possible – the better to offer the most efficient and cheapest journey.
Once this is done, you will be directed by the app to “walk a short distance” to a designated pick-up spot nearby – the better to keep detours to a minimum and pickups faster for everyone,” says Uber.
“We’re constantly changing the app from feedback we’re getting from riders and drivers,” said Henry Greenacre, Uber’s general manger for Australia and New Zealand, in an interview with RE.
“Riders and drivers love those (wait and walk) changes in the US,” he said. “It offers a service that is much more direct.”
Greenacre says the company is excited to launch its pool product in Australia, after the hugely positive response consumers have had to the company so far.
“We’ve been pretty blown away about how Australians have taken to Uber,” he said, noting that the uberX app has had more 3.7 million users since its launch on the market, and has 5000 drivers using the service in any given week.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see how Australians adapt to sharing their ride with other customers.
“We’re also really excited about putting more people in fewer cars,” he said.
“We’ve been talking about car pooling in Australia for a long time. We’ve got the transit lanes in place. We just needed the technology platform.”
The plan for Australia, Greenacre says, is to roll uberPOOL out in Sydney first, and then to other major cities, most likely starting with Melbourne.
This makes Australia a relatively early target market for the app, which Greenacre says has been rolled out in a number of cities in the US, and a small number of international markets.
In San Francisco, Uber’s home city, ride sharing now makes up more than 40 per cent of all Uber trips, Greenacre says, while in other cities – where uberPOOL hasn’t been operating for as long – it averages about 20 per cent of rides.
Whether the service sees numbers like this is Australia remains to be seen. As we so often lament on RE, electric vehicle uptake here has been dismal, compared to other markets, and some of that has been put down to Australians’ love affair with internal combustion engine cars and outdated ideas of automobility.
But this mentality is changing alongside the technology. And as Uber says: ” If you can press a button and get an affordable ride within minutes at any time of day or night, why bother to own a car at all?”