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Uber’s car-sharing feature UberPool is a critical service for the company’s vision — more passengers and thus more fares per ride — but it has been long derided by the drivers providing the service. Many complained it was too much additional work for the same if not less money, others complained of having to pick up a series of passengers who aren’t going in the same direction.
Now, the embattled ride-hail company is tackling the problems of UberPool as part of its campaign to improve conditions for drivers.
The headliner among the suite of changes is that drivers will now receive a flat fee for each new passenger they pick up during a pooled ride.
The fee will range from 50 cents to a $1.00 per new rider and will vary across the 15 cities in the U.S. where UberPool is available. It will be determined by the same factors that affect the overall fare such as base fare, time, distance, surge and likelihood of finding a match.
“One thing we hear a lot is that Pool feels like extra work without additional pay,” Uber’s head of driver product Aaron Schildkrout said. “Multiple pickups make Pool trips more challenging. To make the effort worth drivers’ while, drivers will now earn an extra fare every time an additional pickup is added to the trip. Each extra pickup means more money in drivers’ pockets.”
Uber launched the driver improvement campaign in the thick of its scandal-ridden year, starting with rolling out long-sought-after features like tipping and better customer support. The company is responding to feedback from drivers about their most important concerns in an effort to repair its relationship with them and hopefully retain them on the platform.
Drivers have previously taken on the $69 billion company in court, filing class action lawsuits alleging they were misclassified as independent contractors in an effort to obtain more employee benefits from Uber. The ride-hail company ultimately settled the suit.
In the past year, the company took a hit to its market share as a result of its public scandals — from lawsuits, to Susan Fowler’s essay on sexism at the company, to the public ouster of its CEO — for the first time in its history.
While the company is busy repairing its image in order to save face in front of the public and its customers, the driver improvement campaign seeks to respond to issues drivers have had long before 2017.
As part of the changes, drivers will also be given the opportunity to give riders a poor rating and explain why in the app. The company will then use that feedback to give that person tips on how to be a better passenger.
Uber is also rolling out improvements to its routing algorithm so that a driver can save time by taking straighter routes to pick up and drop off passengers. These mapping and routing improvements can lead to up to 20 percent fewer turns, according to Schildkrout.
At a high level, the mapping and routing algorithms can determine whether a turn is a time drain or have some other negative effect on the trip and choose to avoid those turns.
The company has a few more chapters to roll out, but the company said improving the driver experience is an ongoing process.
“We’re 96 days in,” Rachel Holt, Uber’s regional general manager of the U.S. and Canada, said. “The response from drivers has been incredibly strong. [We want to show that we have a] sustained commitment to improving the driver experience over time.”
Already, Uber has had to pull one of the features the company launched for drivers in an earlier chapter. The feature, called driver destinations, allowed drivers to choose a location they needed to be at a certain time so that the app would only give them rides that went in that direction.
Before the campaign, the company initially only allowed drivers to use this feature up to two times a day. As part of the campaign, Uber bumped that up to six times a day.
However, the company saw in the weeks after the launch that the feature was so popular with drivers that it negatively impacted how long it took a driver to pick up a rider on certain routes. Essentially drivers were using the feature so much that there were not enough drivers along some specific routes in some markets.
“We’re going back to the lab to work on it,” Schildkrout said. “ [This emphasizes] our commitment to building features for the entire rider and driver community.”
In an email to drivers, Uber wrote: “While we test rigorously, the truth is we don’t know exactly how things will work until they’re in the real world, especially at Uber’s size.”
Still, both Holt and Schildkrout are confident that by the end of the campaign drivers will choose to work for Uber, not feel forced to because of market dynamics.
“UberPool is critical to our mission of reliable transportation,” Holt said. “We haven’t done enough to provide drivers the same kind of value. Pool can be more work and more stress. We didn’t feel like this campaign would be complete without [these] changes.”