Ride-hailing service Uber says it envisions its Uber Pool service becoming an everyday part of your commute—not just as a passenger, but as a driver.
"Where we’d like to see this go is that you just have neighbors driving neighbors," David Plouffe, Uber’s chief advisor and board member, explained at a press event on Tuesday.
The event was hosted by the public transportation advocacy organization American Public Transportation Association, which announced a report about ride-sharing services’ impact on public rail, bus, and other transportation modes. Its survey of 4,500 "shared mobility users" in seven major cities found that the more people used shared modes of transportation like Uber, Lyft, and bikesharing programs, the more likely they were to use public transit. In his comments, Plouffe positioned Uber as a first- and last-mile supplement to public transportation, and an ally in reducing congestion.
Plouffe said that Uber's Uber Pool carpooling option, which the company launched in 2014, accounts for 50% of rides in San Francisco, one of Uber’s most popular cities—and that eventually, Uber would like those rides to more closely resemble traditional neighborhood carpools. In other words, picking up passengers would not necessarily be a job that a driver relied on for income, but rather part of an average commute to work. "In the next few years, you’re not even going to think about being an Uber driver," he said. "You’re just going to say, 'I’m going to turn on my car, I’m going to turn on my phone, and if I can pick up someone on my way, I will.'"
Lyft’s director of transportation, Emily Castor, said Lyft shared the same vision. "Right now people think of this as a valuable form of additional income," she said, "But there’s a huge pool of other people who are just thinking about how to get to work that day, but they might love the opportunity to earn a few bucks."
The average Uber driver in the United States is already far from full time, driving fewer than 10 hours per month. "That’s going down every month," Plouffe said, "That’s going to keep going down."
Both Uber and Lyft have steadily been cutting their fares, which has helped spread their services to areas underserved by public transportation. Plouffe noted that 30% of Uber trips in New York City now originate outside of Manhattan, and that 50% of trips in Chicago originate in the south or west sides of the city. But while lower costs and more part-time, casual drivers might be good news for customers, some drivers who depend on their work with the services as a main source of income are not happy with the fare cuts and what they see as their profession being forced into a part-time paradigm. In protests against Uber and Lyft throughout the world, drivers have rebelled against fare cuts and called for caps on the number of drivers. One group of drivers is even planning to launch a competing app with better terms for workers.
For its part, Uber says that drivers make more money when prices fall, because demand for rides increases.