Drawing off curiosity from app-users, ride-hailing giant Uber is expanding its carpooling feature to Prince George’s and Montgomery counties starting Monday, the company announced.
Uber Commute — not be confused with ride-splitting option UberPOOL — allows would-be carpoolers to hitch a discounted ride with nearby drivers headed in the same direction. Drivers commuting into the city, meanwhile, can earn a few extra bucks by picking up a passenger along the way — enough to cover the cost of commuting or parking, Uber says.
Uber touts the service for filling more seats and expanding use of high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and has compared Commute to slugging. True sluggers, however, say Uber’s system is different because the rides cost a fee: typically, $5 to $10 per ride. For the long-distance rides typical of Commute, that’s cheaper than UberX and UberPOOL, the company contends.
“It makes you feel a little bit better by having two people in your car versus one,” said Elizabeth Tucker, 31, who lives in the Shirlington area and has been driving with Commute for about three months. “I get paid to drive, which helps offset the cost of parking.”
A Metro Blue Line rider who works downtown, Tucker said she began exploring commuting alternatives around the time SafeTrack began in summer 2016. She realized she liked the independence of driving to work, but felt bad about the environmental impact. She now uses Commute six to seven times per week, making $10 to $20 per day, she said.
And she’s met some interesting people along the way — including her new conversation partner. Tucker is working on her Spanish; one commuter she’s gotten to know over three trips speaks Spanish, but is trying to learn English.
“We’re tutoring each other as we go,” she said.
Rides are pre-scheduled through the app. The company has warned that Commute drivers are not subject to the same vetting requirements as regular Uber drivers.
Uber says it expanded Commute after 14,000 app users in the region showed interest, entering information about their commutes into the app after a pilot launch last spring. Commute is now available in the District and Alexandria, and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. One caveat, however — Commute isn’t for short trips, so a ride can’t both begin and end in either the District or Arlington.