“So how does UberPool work?”
This, after “How long have you been driving?” and “Has anyone ever puked in your car?” is the question I’m asked most often by my riders.
Seems funny that Uber users wouldn’t understand how this option works. But people tend to be very busy nowadays, and much of their mental bandwidth gets devoted to predicting future Game of Thrones plot lines and hacking their work computers to view NSFW websites. Funnier still: I don’t really know how UberPool works. The reasons for this are manifold, but it mostly comes down to the fact that I, too, am a lazy idiot.
The company promotes UberPool in the app and on its website—but good luck tracking down that info. Also, like most rhetoric from Uber HQ, the description of the service is simplistic, incomplete and possibly disingenuous:
So rather than offering my usual response to the age-old UberPool question—”Um, it’s sorta complicated”—let me try to get it sorted here. I’ll cover the company’s explanation of the service, which falls somewhere on the truth spectrum between overly optimistic and Trumpian, and follow up with a reality the average rider can relate to.
Uber: Pool is the most affordable ride option.
Uber_Duder Truth: So far, so good. If you choose Pool and no other riders in the area headed your direction also choose Pool during your ride, you’re golden. The service will work just like UberX (a.k.a., regular Uber), but you save a small percentage on the fare. Of course, you’ve screwed over a driver desperately toiling to feed his starving family, but congrats, Thrifty McChintzy: You just saved yourself a couple bucks.
Now, if you live in a densely populated area, you ride during peak hours and/or the particular deity you worship is a vengeful god, your driver will make another pickup along the way. The fare will be shared with any other riders, yes, but the percentage of that fare you’re on the hook for, as well as the extra duration of your ride, will be a mystery—as will be the state of mind of those additional passengers.
Uber: Comfortable sedans.
Uber: Convenient shared routes.
Uber_Duder Truth: You know those roadside shops around Houston selling $8-a-gallon gas and $12 bottled waters right now? Technically, they fit the definition of convenience stores. But, hey, you might disagree.
Occasionally, multiple-rider Pool trips come off without a hitch: no waiting, plenty of room in the car, pickups and drop-offs firmly within the bounds of prescribed routes. Smooth.
But just as often, things fall apart. The other night, for instance, I picked up a clearly exhausted mother and her young son after midnight at a Metra stop in Evanston. She was headed home to Des Plaines, due east a solid 20-25 minutes in the best conditions. Instead, I was immediately pinged to a spot a few minutes north, where we picked up a couple of day laborers who had been drinking with a buddy on the street curb. Their destination: Winnetka.
Look like a straight line between two points to you?
Just as problematic was throwing a couple of juiced-up adult men in the Sonata with a mother and son. And because the second customer hadn’t indicated in the app how many passengers would be riding (if I’d know it would be two, I might have canceled), a semi-stoned stranger wound up sidled next to a sleeping 5-year-old boy in my backseat.
All’s well that ends well: The dudes were quiet, respectful and even tipped. But mom’s Spidey Senses must have been raging, and the length of her late-night ride home probably more than doubled, to about 45 minutes. She might’ve saved $8, tops. Was it worth it? Only she knows.
Uber: Maximum 2 riders per pickup.
Uber_Duder Truth: This is either an exercise in linguistic gymnastics or good old-fashioned bullshit. I’ve been pinged to pick up as many as four separate Pool riders before Customer No. 1 ever reached his destination. I’ve heard stories of others who got stuck with more. To save money, some people are willing to put up with a little hassle. What they generally aren’t willing to do is accept a 12-minute ride being turned into a three-hour tour, or being sucked into the world’s worst speed dating game during a glorified cab ride home.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve had some enjoyable Pool rides. You meet a bunch of new people, steam up the windows, have some laughs. It’s sort of a house party on wheels. But surely you’ve seen some of those bashes go sideways, too. Crabby Girl. Grabby Guy. Sir Talks-A-Lot. The Gang That Couldn’t See Straight (Because They Were So Goddamn Drunk). I’ve had them all in Pools before, too. Wanna join them?
I thought not. Be a grown-up. Take UberX. It’s still cheaper than a taxi, and you no longer have to worry whether you’ll be the weirdest person in the car. You will be.
Unless I’m your driver.