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Uber Pool in Philly: The more devoted the driver, the less they like the service

Kamil doesn’t accept riders who want to use Uber POOL anymore. When Philadelphia Uber riders select the option to pay less for a ride in exchange for sharing it with another person or two, this driver says “no” and finds someone willing to pay the higher fare for a car on their own.

A lower ride acceptance rate might hurt Kamil in the future as he tries to secure rides to make money. He says he doesn’t care — Uber POOL isn’t worth it.

“They’re making us do more work for nothing,” Kamil, who was once a full-time driver for Uber and Lyft, said. “It’s a waste of time.”

Uber POOL launched in Philadelphia in February with promises of lower fares for riders and increased profits for drivers. When Uber users order a ride and select the POOL option rather than UberX, they’re given a flat rate based on their destination that’s cheaper than UberX, but along the way, the driver may pick up other riders.

We spoke to about a dozen Uber drivers in Philadelphia over the last several weeks, about half of whom said they didn’t mind Uber POOL. The other half of the folks we talked to, who were almost all full-time Uber drivers — not people using it supplement another income — said a minimal increase in fares isn’t worth the hassle of dealing with Uber POOL.

In theory, Uber POOL should make drivers more money. Though the fares per rider are lower (about 30 percent, but can be up to 75 percent depending on demand), drivers stand to make two, three or four times that much per ride based on how many riders they pick up along that one route.

Here’s how Uber sold its POOL option to drivers when it first launched in Philly:

On a normal uberX trip, you take your passenger to their destination and end the trip. Your next fare doesn’t start until another request comes through and you’ve picked up the new passenger. With uberPOOL, you’re picking up multiple riders and being paid along the way. You’re collecting a fare from the first pickup through the final dropoff, eliminating the unpaid period spent waiting for another request and traveling to another pickup location.

This works in theory. But in real life, drivers say it doesn’t account for variances like sitting in traffic or waiting for a person to come get in the car. It doesn’t always work out well for the first person in the car because the route to where they’re going might not be the fastest one. And on many occasions, the ride isn’t matched, so instead of making two or three times the fare on one route, drivers are making less.

Uber says drivers aren’t taking the entire hit when Uber POOL rates are significantly lower than UberX. For instance, a 75 percent discount for a rider doesn’t correlate with a 75 percent loss of earnings for a driver. A spokesman for Uber said drivers take home a minimum of $4.75 on a POOL trip. He also said UberX and POOL have essentially the same price-per-minute rate. UberX is 18 cents per minute, while the POOL rate was recently increased from 10 to 17 cents per minute.

Any slight decrease in earnings isn’t a noticeable or inconvenient for many of the folks who use ridesharing as a second job or something they do in their free time. Monica Fletcher, a school aide who lives in Northeast Philadelphia, drives for Uber about twice a week for six or eight hours at a time and has been using the app since October to make some extra cash. She said she likes using Uber POOL because riders who are total strangers often enjoy it — sometimes more than she expected.

“Some people like each other so much,” she said, “they end up going to the bar together.”

Other drivers told us they haven’t experienced problems with Uber POOL and are largely indifferent toward using it.

Kamil feels differently. About a month ago, he quit driving for Uber and Lyft full-time in order to drive a truck to make more money. He’ll continue to drive for ridesharing services in the future, but more and more he’s gravitating toward Lyft, which he says pays better and is more willing to listen to drivers who have concerns.

Uber says drivers with questions or feedback on Uber services can do so within the app, or they can come to Uber’s in-person service center near the Philadelphia International Airport. Uber also holds focus groups and driver appreciation days to solicit feedback.

But some drivers, especially those who meticulously track their earnings, have publicly taken issue with Uber POOL. One Philadelphia driver posted a letter to Uber management on a ridesharing message board, writing “UberPOOL makes very little sense for drivers.”

Another driver who wished to remain anonymous said Uber hasn’t been forthcoming with drivers about what the Uber POOL fares actually are. When riders choose an Uber POOL, they get a guaranteed fare, but the driver doesn’t see what that is until after they’ve already accepted the rider in the app. Then that guaranteed fare doesn’t change, even if the driver sits in traffic or has to wait for people to come get in the car.

“It’s so frustrating and annoying when you’re in Center City and you have to pick some dickhead up who’s not outside, then you get somewhere else and you have to block traffic and do it again,” he said. “And people don’t understand that on Uber POOL, you can’t tell the driver ‘can you take me here, and then here.’ Doesn’t work like that.”

(FWIW, Uber does charge riders who keep drivers waiting for more than two minutes.)

The full-time Uber driver also said only about a third of his Uber POOL rides are actually “matched,” meaning the majority of them are transporting one rider for a lower fare than what it would have been had the person selected UberX. Sure, it’s a small decrease in earnings for that one ride. But it adds up over time, and many drivers are hesitant to decline Uber POOL rides for fear of impacting their ride acceptance rate.

“At best, it’s about even doing Uber POOL and UberX, because there are slight ways you make more money [with POOL],” he said. “The point is, even if it was more money, it would not be worth the frustration and headaches that it causes and the lack of clarity about your job.”

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