Will Uber's new refund policy change the future of transportation?

A new policy gives Uber customers an incentive to use UberPOOL, the service that Uber's founders are calling 'the future of human-driven transportation.'

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/File
An Uber car is seen parked with the driver's lunch left on the dashboard in Venice, California.

Ridesharing giant Uber has a new policy: If your ride runs late, you get your money back. Well, some of it, anyway.

The policy, which is currently being tested in Los Angeles, offers passengers a $2 credit toward their next UberPOOL ride if they arrive at their destination after the projected arrival time. The "arrive by" feature is Uber's latest incentive to increase usage of UberPOOL, a service that matches passengers with similar routes and allows them to share a car for a discounted price. 

In a TED Talk, Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick called UberPOOL "the future of human-driven transportation," citing a decrease in traffic congestion, CO2 admissions, and  space dedicated to parking lots and garages as potential benefits of the carpooling service. 

"Of course, carpooling is not a new idea. But we finally have technology – the smartphone in your pocket – that can instantaneously match people headed in the same direction at the same time," wrote Mr. Kalanick in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. "And when getting a ride is cheaper and easier than looking for your keys, your directions, your car and a parking space – well, why bother to own a car at all?"

One study by MIT researchers on the effects of carpooling services such as UberPOOL and similar competitor Lyft Line found that if people were willing to wait an extra five minutes per trip to pick up other passengers, nearly 95 percent of trips could be shared. If that were to happen, the researchers concluded, travel time could be cut by 40 percent, with similar reductions in operational costs and carbon dioxide emissions.

Nevertheless, the UberPOOL feature in its current format poses some challenges for drivers. 

"Most people don't realize that picking up and dropping off passengers is often the most stressful part of the job. Passengers may not be ready to go, in the wrong location, try to exit the vehicle in an illegal drop-off zone, etc.," said Harry Campbell, an Uber driver who documents his experiences in a blog titled The Rideshare Guy, in an interview with Tech Insider. "I don't really feel that UberPOOL is worth my time as a driver since it's more work for about the same amount of pay."

Some customers have yet to be won over by the feature as well, citing time delays, awkward interactions, and safety concerns as potential negative outcomes of an UberPOOL trip. 

"Riders have to make mental calculation about the money they could potentially save and weigh it against the likelihood of getting matched with someone else and the uncertainty that getting matched gives you," wrote Jason Koebler for Vice's Motherboard, in a blog post titled "Why Everyone Hates UberPOOL."

"As a rider, the optimal UberPOOL experience is one in which you are matched with no one else," he continued. "If this happens, you get a car to yourself, meaning you get private car service that is usually cheaper than a normal ride."

In an effort to prevent some of the potential drawbacks of sharing a car with a stranger, Uber published a POOL etiquette guide, which urges customers to practice good habits such as keeping cell phone use to a minimum, not sharing a car after getting sweaty at the gym, and even popping a mint in your mouth before speaking to a fellow passenger. 

People do like their space. Part of what they’re getting in a taxi is they’re not packed in on the subway," said David Yassky, former Chair of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission and advisor to Lyft, when asked by Slate whether the concerns of potential passengers could be overcome. But, he added, “I have zero doubt that there’s a healthy segment of people who would take advantage of carpooling if it was doable.” 

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