In yet another move to broaden its scope, Uber is testing a new service in San Francisco that in some ways is akin to bus service, in which passengers are picked up at spots along a predetermined route.
Uber has implemented the service, “Smart Routes,” along two routes—on Fillmore Street between Haight and Bay streets, and on Valencia Street between 15th and 26th streets. Smart Routes is the latest addition to UberPool, the truest ride-sharing option under Uber’s umbrella of on-demand services because it involves sharing a car and splitting expenses with other customers.
Smart Routes, part of ongoing efforts both to increase efficiency during Uber drivers’ time on the road and to help riders save time and money, aims to simplify pick-ups by encouraging customers to request a ride along specific routes. In many cases, customers need to walk a short distance to or from the pickup spot, but their fare is discounted by at least $1.
Also, the routes eliminate some time-wasting and gas-wasting detours, enabling drivers to finish a set of UberPool rides quicker and pick up more fares, which earns them more money. In theory, getting riders to walk to Smart Routes would eventually also increase Uber profits, even after handing out discounts.
Some critics view Smart Routes as essentially a privatization of public bus service, but this isn’t entirely accurate. Pickup locations are flexible along the routes and riders can be dropped off wherever they choose, not just at points along the routes. Also, Uber vehicles running Smart Routes are cars, not buses, and since they have fewer people riding in them, they don’t generally make as many stops. Currently, Uber isn’t requiring Smart Routes drivers to have large vehicles, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it does in the future.
Smart Routes is similar to Loup, a ride-sharing service that pays people to drive their cars and pick people up on bus-like routes through a city. Chariot offers the same type of service, but with big vans.
Smart Routes aren’t the only alternative pick-up option being tested. Uber’s “Perpetual Rides” and Lyft’s “Triple Match” are both experiments that allow drivers to continuously pick up passengers whenever they have an open seat, rather than completing a set of UberPool or Lyft Line rides before starting the next. Lyft’s also tried giving discounts if you’ll wait 10 minutes for a Lyft Line first.