But the ride-hailing firms have seen an accompanying jump in the proportion of riders using their discounted ride-splitting options — from 20 percent before SafeTrack to 1 in 4 now.
The gains are welcome news for the companies, which made big marketing pushes focused on their lower-cost commuter options ahead of SafeTrack. Uber launched a $10-million initiative called “Pooling Together” that promised discounts of up to 80 percent on pooled rides, in addition to incentives for drivers targeting surge areas. Lyft slashed pooled ride fares by up to 75 percent.
A review of Uber’s data shows how its efforts may have paid off: D.C. is adopting uberPOOL faster than similar cities where the service has recently launched. Since ride-pooling launched in October, D.C.’s share of pool trips has grown to 26 percent, while similarly-sized Boston’s hovers at 20 percent despite launching two months earlier. And Atlanta — which launched pool service in December — sits at 14 percent.
During morning commutes, Uber says, pooled rides into the District have tripled since SafeTrack’s launch.
“For a city of this size, that’s a pretty significant jump in that short of a period,” Uber D.C. General Manager Tom Hayes said at the briefing.
Lyft spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna said SafeTrack has given way to an additional trend: longer trips. Lyft rides are significantly longer on average since the Metro’s yearlong rebuilding program launched, she said.
The ride-hailing firms, whose economic models have been called into question amid recent news reports — one speculating on Lyft’s potential sale and another detailing Uber’s operating losses — are staking their futures on pooled riding. Here’s how it works: A driver picks up a rider and then, along the way, picks up others headed in the same direction — in the process making dropoffs and pickups that add to the pot of fares and earnings. It’s kind of like a bus.
“We can provide increasing discounts the more people we’re able to get in the same vehicle,” Hayes said. “There’s a certain economics that work for everyone in that case.”
Hayes made it clear the company’s D.C. discounts were an “investment” to build on its rider base — not an economic cash cow. Incentives for drivers amid the deeply discounted fares include $5 bonuses for those targeting some SafeTrack areas. As a result, Uber says, 27 percent drivers completed their first trip in the first two months of SafeTrack compared to the preceding period.
During the project’s second phase, targeting a degraded stretch of track between Eastern Market and Minnesota Avenue on the Orange Line and Benning Road on the Blue Line, uberPOOL requests spiked 34 percent in the immediate vicinity of the track work. It saw similar, but less substantial spikes during most of the first six surges.
“Part of it was we targeted riders specifically in those areas and I think, made discounts that were more attractive and really easy to understand and that encouraged folks to do it,” Hayes said of the gains in the second surge zone. “There’s probably a difference in terms of other available transportation options. I think in those areas we were probably very helpful relative to the other options.”
Uber says pool trips jumped by 15 percent in an area targeted by the sixth SafeTrack surge, which stretched from Takoma to Silver Spring on the Red Line.
During the first maintenance surge, from East Falls Church to Ballston on the Orange and Silver Lines, pool requests increased by 10 percent near affected Northern Virginia stations. Whether those commuters returned to Metro after the surges ended was less clear. Uber said it was pleased to have merely gotten riders signed up.