Uber have announced the UberPool service, which creates several questions, the main one being - will it catch on?
The idea of the service is that when you get into an Uber car and log where you are going, you can share the car with a complete stranger in order to split the costs. Uber claim that the app will reduce congestion and pollution, whilst also saving their customers money, but in reality is this idea set to fly or flop?
There have been apps created to exclusively allow people to share rides before, most notably Maaxi, and despite initial investments from people like Nat Rothschild it has not really got off the ground.
Due to this, some have doubts about whether or not Uber's new idea will succeed or simply be scrapped in a few months.
To look at this in more detail we need to look at some of the reasons for the failure of Maaxi and whether this is likely to create a similar situation for Uber.
The first issue that Maaxi had was that not enough people were using the app. Whilst Uber is on practically everybody's phone in urban areas around the world, Maaxi was not a staple on people's screens. It meant that the taxi drivers who were trying to use the app would find that they would have very little business from it and that it made more sense for them to drive in their usual ways. In fact, some of the drivers claimed that in two months of use they had received only one job from the app.
This kind of uptake is not going to be good for black cab companies as they are looking for better ways to make money, not the best ways to take fares and split them with another company. Equally, because there was not the initial uptake and taxi drivers began to delete the app, the people who then downloaded the app as passengers were finding that there was nobody to fulfill their journey and instead turned to alternatives.
Luckily Uber have done the opposite of this, creating the huge user base before trying to implement a ride share system. The app is very popular amongst the general population and the drivers who are using it are generally doing so as extra money, so do not feel that they are losing out on other business by not using it. So this is therefore unlikely to create the same problems.
However, the biggest issue that Uber will have is something that cannot be overcome through the use of technology or uptake, which is that people value their privacy and safety.
Through a ride sharing service people are forced to spend time with people they have never met before and know nothing about. Even if there is a rating system for passengers created in the same way as the drivers, these can be easily faked. When the car drops people off it will generally be at either their houses or workplaces, meaning that this knowledge will then be passed to the person with whom they are sharing the taxi.
It does not seem to have been an issue in San Francisco, where Uber claim that half of all trips in the city, but this may not be the case in other cities across the world. London for instance, which has one of the best public transport systems in the world that can generally move people around a city much faster than a car due to congestion. If people are going to use the app for simple movement around the city with a stranger, they may as well do it for much cheaper through public transport.
From a business standpoint it makes sense for Uber and their customers. The journey will cost 25% less than a traditional UberX which is great for the consumer and given that there are essentially two journeys being made, Uber and its drivers make 50% more from one journey. This probably means that even if the concept doesn't hit the same heights as the traditional service, it is still likely to be kept on for financial reasons.
So will it be a success?
This kind of idea makes a lot of sense and can make Uber look like they are doing something to help the environment whilst also increasing their per-journey income. The biggest hurdle they will have is the basic human desire for privacy and a natural wariness of strangers. Should this come about, there is every chance that the idea will be a success, but even if it isn't, it is unlikely to be something that the company drops any time soon.