My Puzzling First Experience With Uber Express POOL

A couple weeks ago, Uber rolled out their new Express POOL in a variety of cities, including Washington, DC. Basically the idea is that by walking a couple blocks to meet your Uber, they can route the vehicles along a straighter path, which makes for more efficient (and less expensive) ridesharing.

A few days ago I decided to give Express POOL a try to go from my office to my home (a distance of about 2 miles). It was a couple bucks cheaper than regular POOL.

Before you hail a ride, the app shows you how far you might have to walk (the area highlighted in blue).

Then you wait a short time (up to 2 minutes) while it tries to pair you with other people going along the same general path.

Turns out, Uber said I didn’t have to walk at all – the driver would pick me up right outside my office. To me, this made no sense. If the app had asked me to walk across the street and my co-passenger to walk a block, it could have saved a left turn and a U-turn on a busy street.

I requested my ride at 5:44 pm. It estimated I would wait 8 minutes. I ended up waiting about double that.

And I will say the driver was great. He was friendly, communicative, competent, and safe. So I can’t attribute any of the faults of this ride to him.

We dropped off one of the passengers a few minutes into the trip. Rather than dropping him off on our side of the street, Uber had us make four left turns so we could drop him off on the southbound side of the street. That added several minutes to the journey.

Why, Uber? WHY?

The ride took way longer than any other rideshare trip I’ve ever taken between home and work, because of how many turns we made along the way to pick up and drop off people slightly off the direct route.

This is puzzling – if Uber Express POOL worked the way it said it would, the ride would have taken about 10 to 15 minutes less. I think it’s a good idea, but they have some real kinks to work out.

There’s A Better Way

For me, the much better alternative is Via. Granted, it’s only available in DC, Chicago, and New York right now. Pricing is decent (I pay $3.75 to go between home and work, and there doesn’t seem to be surge pricing). It does sometimes make you walk a block or so for pick-up or drop off, but the routes are actually logical and I’ve never had it make a significant detour for other passengers.

My favorite thing about Via is that it (accurately) tells you how long the wait is for your car before you book it – and it often gives you two options. So in the morning, when I’m still getting ready, I request a Via and it’ll often give me an option for a car that’s almost there, or one that’s 7 or 8 minutes away. I choose the latter so I can put my shoes on and head downstairs, and it works out great.

I might give Express POOL another try in a couple months in hopes that either my ride was an anomaly or that they can fix their routing issues by then. Until then, I’ll probably stick with Via.

Incidentally, if you download Via and enter my code, andrew8h9yda, we’ll both get $10 of Via credit — for which I’d be eternally grateful. Other Via users, feel free to enter your own referral codes in the comments!

Have you tried Uber Express POOL yet? How was your experience?

Comments

  1. “To me, this made no sense.”

    This is how it has been with DC taxicabs for time immemorial. So Uber now has a share of the nonsensical. I can’t even imagine trying out this feature; what a waste of time and annoyance.

  2. Well, the app and the routing algorithm claim to do all the thinking for the driver, so he/she has to follow it exactly or risk messing up the sequence of pickups. However, this also means they can’t use their better judgement when it the algorithm is wrong. At least it’s being recorded and you can file a complaint that the route was inefficient.

  3. Damn, the other Michael beat me to the punch.
    This reminds me of when they first rolled out UberPOOL – the routings were crap, even in cities with straightforward grid streets. Gonna stick with Lyft and Via.

  4. I never understood why taxis (and Uber, apparently) have such a hard time in DC. It’s one of the most grid-like of the major cities in the US, save the Georgetown area, and the state streets are purposely diagonal, major arteries, and all go the same or opposite direction. There’s no reason why it should ever be difficult to navigate. I’ve canceled several Ubers in the middle of the ride because the driver was clearly from some area way OTB and the navigation app was just as clueless. Uber needs to get their act together.

  5. Congrats, you have now experienced how terrible Uber’s DC navigation is (their time estimates are wildly inaccurate as well). I have to give the drivers my own directions, and despite it saving at least 10 minutes each time, it’s taken a hit on my rating. I’ve gone back to hailing taxis when they’re closeby because the taxi drivers are a lot less clueless and beholden to the arrows on a smartphone.

    It’s an artifact of the rivalry between Uber and Google that Uber refuses to use Google Maps’/Waze superior wayfinding and give Google the data on their paths.

  6. As a DC resident with pretty good knowledge of traffic and routes, following the GPS doesn’t work very well. When I get a Lyft, I want to set the route

  7. Andrew, Via said your code was invalid so I used Michael’s.

    Mine is jeffrey6z7i if anyone wants to use it.

    Same $10 for you and $10 for me.

  8. Save time and money by just using bikeshare. Unless it’s a downpour, or you’re stealing the office chair, there’s zero reason to get in a car for such a small distance.

  9. Lucky-

    I uberpool every day to work (about 15 miles) and it takes me about 30 minutes. Tried uberpool express and I was stuck in a car for an hour and a half dropping off and picking up people.

    I also uberpool once or twice a week from the South Bay to San Francisco. By pool, this will usually take around 75-90 minutes in traffic (never more than 2 hours). At most I will have 2 pick ups, and will arrive at a reasonable time. Both times that I’ve tried uber expresspool, i waited over 10 minutes for my pick up and then spent nearly 3 hours in a car picking up and dropping off 6+ passengers. I had never had to use the bathroom so badly.

    The problem was that the app said I was guaranteed to get to San Francisco within 3 hours. Because of my experience with Pool, I thought this was the worst case scenario, that after a couple pick ups, I would just get to my destination without more pick ups. But every time the app realized we were going to get there ahead of the worst case scenario, it kept adding more people! We were getting off the 101 every 7 miles to pick up someone new. And each time we were getting stuck for 10 minutes trying to get back on the highway during rush hour.

    It’s just not worth it. In fact, I’m annoyed that they greatly increased Pool prices (an average of 50% where I am) so they could introduce Express Pool at 10% less than the old Pool price. Everyone I know here (except college students) avoids it like the plague.

  10. @SVflyer: “We were getting off the 101…”

    No, you weren’t. You were getting off 101, unless the San Francisco Peninsula has been relocated to southern California.

    😉

  11. same message re your referral code not being valid Andrew. Guess I will use someone else’s who posted here -thanks for Via tip!

  12. should have mentioned – I used Michael’s code – so he will know to look for the $10 credit

  13. @snic hahaha!

    It is funny that Via figured this out years ago and uber can’t. Via should expand to more cities (or at least get acquired by Uber). It is really the best rideshare interaction.

  14. @snic: haha, you are right

    Also, I just realized that this post wasn’t written by Lucky. Sorry, Andrew! Rough morning here.

    And, yes, I have to agree with all of those who praise Via. I’ve only used it in NYC but it’s always been super efficient — often faster than UberX since the Via drivers are no nonsense and don’t waste 15 minutes going in circles around congested Midtown one-says to pick you up.

  15. @snic “No, you weren’t. You were getting off 101, unless the San Francisco Peninsula has been relocated to southern California.”

    Highway 101 is 1540 miles long and continues all of the way up through California, Oregon and Washington state. @SVflyer was not incorrect about “We were getting off the 101…” since that is one of the main corridors between San Jose and San Francisco.

  16. @Elizabeth,
    snic was referring to the fact that only Southern Californians refer to freeways as “the” + route number.

  17. As an Uber driver (in Australia), the map directs us to pick up a rider on exactly the side of the street where they are standing and so directs us around and around the block. It has a fit if we use common sense and wave to the person from across the street for them to cross over and jump in. Very frustrating.

  18. This new CEO is a DISASTER. Every negative rider change can be attributed to him.

    Took Uber Pool the other day. They missed my guaranteed arrival time by 20 minutes because the driver was re-routed to two out of the way pickups that PAST my destination.

    When I wrote in to support, they went back and forth over eight times asking when this happened, what day, etc. — a common theme with them since Travis left.

  19. Uber, and many other tech companies, have done a great job at making people think that everything they do is special, new, and unique. But all they’ve done here is invent…a bus. That’s all this is, folks.

  20. I also have tried Uber Express Pool in DC in the past few months since it came out. My commute is about 3 miles each way. I have used it on a few other occasions in the burbs of MD as well. I have to say it is really hit or miss as far as how it goes. I live and work in DC. Uber is always surging from my condo, no matter the time or day. Pool in the morning, and even more so express pool is a colossal waste of time. 95% of the time the routes are horrible. Yesterday my express pool took me from NW DC, to Howard University, in order to get to Dupont Circle, no sense at all. What has also become annoying about both Uber pool and express is that they are picking three people up and dropping three more people off in your trip, so six people, that is far too many. Express pool rarely requires me to walk to a location, it never has from my condo. It has a few times from my office but not more than a block. when it does though the app is totally unclear as to where you are supposed to go. Sometimes it gives the address, other times it gives you nothing other than an arrow pointing, not helpful at all. To top it off some people in the pool are express and some are not. So people get pissy that they have to walk when others do not. The drop off points are horrible. I had to walk almost five blocks. Now I actually tell the driver when we are getting close where to drop me.

  21. NYC UberPOOL is similarly inefficient. I was just sent from one side of the city to the other to pick up a passenger, which made a 15 minute direct trip closer to one hour. The bus is 45 minutes. Would have been faster. Learned my lesson!

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