Whether you’re an Uber driver or rider, you’re probably now getting around to hearing the term Express Pool. Here in the Boston market, it’s been out for a few months, so I’ve had quite a bit of experience with it and hopefully will be able to explain what it is, why it may be good, and why it may suck.
What is Express Pool?
Uber Express Pool is a new option added to give riders an even cheaper option when using the rideshare. It is significantly cheaper than UberX and even about 50% cheaper than Uber Pool in some situations. This is due to the convenience factor of the driver sticking to their route and picking people up along the side of busy roads which prevents him or her from veering off from the final destination.
It is similar to that large vehicle we see in every city and town that drives along a specific route and has specific stops at specific times. What’s it called again? Oh, right, a bus. The only difference is that Express Pool passengers aren’t forced to wait at the bus stop with other people as they’re given their own randomly selected location to wait.
If you do not have Express Pool in your area yet, just wait. I have no doubt that this is going to be the first option for self-driving cars as it will allow the vehicle to remain on familiar roads and not do stuff like hit people crossing the street.
Why is Express Pool so cheap?
By now you know what an Uber Pool is, and if not, it is when up to 2 passengers share a ride with other strangers so long as the strangers are going the same route. The problem with regular pool is that drivers often have to go out of their way to pick up additional passengers which adds to the cost of the ride for the original passengers. However, Uber has “up front pricing” which means the passenger is going to get charged what they were quoted at regardless of what happens along the ride and Uber loses even more money per ride.
With Express Pool, passengers are told to walk to a designated pickup spot where Uber drivers can swing by and grab them which prevents the driver from going way out of the way and wasting miles that Uber is forced to pay for. The savings get passed on to the passenger and you then have Uber Bus.
What is the problem with it for a rider?
Many passengers don’t like the pool feature at all but don’t quite understand it and select it because it’s the cheapest option. When they realize there are other passengers, that is typically the last time they either use Uber or use Pool. Let’s assume this section is not for them and this is for people who accept what Pool is and have no problem using it.
The biggest downside of Express Pool for them is simply the walking to a specific location. This is because the weather could be unfavorable and the ride not always on time which causes the rider to wait longer than expected in poor weather. More times than you can imagine, a rider is told to walk to a specific location but the driver gets there first and ends up leaving because the passenger is not there yet. This happens more often than not in busier cities when the app tells the passenger to go to some busy intersection and the driver simply can’t sit there and wait for 2+ minutes.
That’s not a guarantee, and will likely change over time as Uber finds more ideal waiting locations for passengers, but right now that is probably the biggest complaint Express Pool passengers have.
What is the problem with it for a driver?
When Uber first announced this feature to drivers, they did it with a sense of excitement that pool rides are going to be easier on the driver now that they won’t need to navigate side streets to pick up passengers. That sounds good in theory, but in practice, it’s a nightmare.
If you’re driving in a fairly busy area, chances are high that the app will send the rider to some main street which is actually harder to do a pickup on than a side street. This is because cars are almost always parked on the side of the road, so you are forced to either park in a bus stop or double park with your hazards on waiting for a passenger to pop out between some cars and hop in.
As I learned last week, stopping like this is both dangerous and illegal. A police officer was standing near an event that recently let out and he was pulling over people who double parked to pick up passengers, even if that stop was for no more than 5 seconds (like mine). He said that is obstruction of traffic and I could be held at fault if another driver rear-ended me or a bike crashed into me. Fortunately, he was giving out warnings to drivers and my $10 ride didn’t turn into a $100 ticket, but I did gain important information that it’s not worth obstructing traffic to pick someone up.
Uber will not reimburse you for any traffic violations, and if you get too many, they can actually remove you from their program. Needless to say, if you cannot safely pull over to pick up a passenger, just keep driving and cancel the trip.
Are there any other issues with Express Pool?
Whether drivers like to admit it or not, they pride themselves on their rating, and that can cause them to do things like violate traffic laws for the ease of the passenger. This is because they fear getting the dreaded 1-star rating which can sink a decent rating pretty low depending on how many rides are under your belt. Passengers know this and will sometimes use it to their advantage when it comes to Express Pool. Quite often they will call the driver and pretend the app messed up their pickup location and they’re actually at soandso spot.
In addition, when dropping them off, Uber typically drops them off a block or two away from their destination, and they will ask the driver to drop them off at their door. This puts the driver in an awkward situation because the entire point of Express Pool is to avoid doing just that, so the driver will then need to tell the passenger he won’t drive an additional block over and drop the passenger off at their door.
While Uber does have a feature where you can dispute a rating, the problem with the app is it doesn’t tell you which passenger rated you a certain way, so it makes it extremely difficult (if not impossible) for a driver to dispute a rating that they aren’t even 100% sure exists. A driver could notice their rating drop at the end of the night and just assume it was a passenger who seemed angry. They can contact Uber and try to dispute it, but little do they realize, it may have been a ride earlier in the night who simply rated 1-star to try and get a free ride (that happens).
What needs to change?
Here are a few suggestions that Uber needs to make in order to keep drivers from just ignoring all Pool requests for fear of getting an Express Pool
- Communicate with the passenger better
Just like they need to do regarding car seats and unaccompanied minors, Uber needs to remind passengers to try to get on a specific side of the road (depending on the likely direction of the driver) and look for a safe space where a driver can pull over.
- Let drivers know when a passenger gives a rating under 3 stars for Express Pool
Showing the driver specific ratings per passenger is not an ideal solution because riders do not want to be scared into giving 5-star ratings. Having a driver know where you live and how you rated them is not really a comforting feeling. Even though odds are strongly against a driver actually doing something, losing anonymity of a rating system alters the accuracy of the system. Express Pool typically doesn’t give an address of the rider and because of the confusing nature of the system, riders blame drivers more for screwups for these difficult pickups.
- Do not ping a driver until the passenger is at the recommended location
While it may bother a rider to know drivers will not even be notified until they’re standing outside waiting, it will bother them more when a driver gets there, waits 2 minutes, and drives off collecting a cancellation fee because the rider had a 5-minute walk to the stop.
- Work with areas on creating Uber pickup zones.
Cities really need to work with Uber and Lyft on creating rideshare specific zones. They have areas that taxi cabs can pull over and wait, or a bus can pull over and pick people up, but let rideshare drivers flap in the breeze. Ridesharing is the future and wasting tons of sidewalk space so cab drivers can pull over and wait for rides that are not going to happen is silly. Uber/Lyft need to work with major cities on fixing this problem sooner rather than later.
Drivers can protest Uber Pools all they want, but with so many drivers on the road, someone else is guaranteed to pick up a Pool request when they get it. This means Pool and Express Pool are not going away anytime soon and the company needs to find a good solution to have a peaceful coexistence with all types of rides.