Commuters will share rides with drivers headed in the same direction so both can take advantage of HOV lanes. One key difference: while slugging is free, Uber’s prearranged rides will come with a price tag– likely $5 to $10 per trip, the company says, but cheaper than a long-distance ride with uberPOOL or uberX.
“Think of it as digital slug lines,” Uber said in a company blog post. “Drivers commuting along specific routes, including I-395, I-66, and the GW Parkway, will get paired with commuters from headed the same way in the mornings as well as the afternoons and early evenings.”
The program began as an in-house pilot at Uber’s D.C. headquarters, and is separate from ride-splitting service uberPOOL. But D.C. isn’t the first city where Uber has tried its hand at carpooling. A similar program launched in Chicago has since disbanded, but Uber says the feature has been revamped, and the Washington region will be the first in the U.S. to test it.
Uber rival Lyft discontinued a carpooling pilot, Lyft Carpool, last year, saying not enough drivers were interested.
But Uber officials said the D.C. region, which has grappled with Metro’s Safetrack maintenance program for nearly a year, is uniquely suited to the type of trips that will likely be taken on Commute.
Uber East Coast general manager Meghan Joyce cited “the stress and strain that is already in this market.”
“We have these heavily-congested roadways. But particularly in light of the SafeTrack initiative, we knew that there was going to be additional congestion [and] strain,” she said.
For drivers, the service is billed as a way to make up fuel and parking costs on their way into work. The company says riders will be warned that Commute drivers are not subject to the same vetting procedures as its regular Uber drivers.
Rides will be scheduled in advance; trips will be set up the night before in a new “Commute” panel in the app. The system will operate Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and encompass users in the three available areas who work in D.C., or vice versa, Uber said.
Jim Corcoran, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, lauded the announcement in a statement provided by Uber.
“The Northern Virginia Chamber appreciates Uber’s efforts to improve transportation choices for commuters in the region,” Corcoran said. “Creative private sector ideas that build off the investments made in the Commonwealth to get people to their jobs faster and more efficiently are important to keeping the Northern Virginia economy growing.”
Joyce defended the viability of the product, in spite of ride-hailing companies’ struggles finding success with similar features in other cities.
“We curious to see if this works. And we’re launching it as a pilot. And we will pivot as needed and maybe we’ll find that the appetite’s not there,” Joyce said. “We’re hopeful based on the investment that this community has made, the long tradition of things like slug lining and buses and Metro and shared rides, and the opportunity to help those people who want to drive get reimbursed, help people who want to ride get really affordable rides and we hope to help reduce congestion while we’re at it.”