There’s a secret equation Uber is constantly trying to optimize, where Uber and the driver earn the most money possible while the passenger pays the least. Internally, I’ve heard Uber refers to this as “the perfect ride”.
It might seem like the two halves of the equation fundamentally clash, and in a way they do, but the trick is in maximizing efficiency of every part of the trip to make it a win-win-win. That means no wasted gas, the most direct route, the shortest ETA, and a minimum delay and distance between a driver’s rides.
Many of Uber’s recent product updates have been designed to get it closer to this perfect ride. Today it’s launching its latest feature in this pursuit. It allows drivers to receive and accept nearby ride requests while they’re still finishing their previous ride.
That means if the closest Uber is currently occupied but could finish their trip and get to you quicker than a vehicle that’s unoccupied but further away, they may be slated as your driver instead. You’d get a car one minute from dropping off other passengers one minute away from you rather than a car five minutes away.
Over the weekend in San Francisco I noticed passengers getting out of my assigned car, and the driver told me he’d received my request while still on his last trip. When I asked Uber, it confirmed that after limited testing, the feature is now rolling out globally, and provided this statement:
“We’re rolling out a new feature worldwide that connects drivers with their next trip when their current trip is nearing its end. The ability to accept new nearby requests while still on trip cuts down on time wasted between one drop-off and the next pick-up –– all while reducing ETAs for riders and increasing the overall efficiency of the platform.”
Here’s how back-to-back rides and Uber’s other features factor into the 10-step perfect ride:
- A passenger instantly enters their pick-up spot and destination by selecting from previously entered locations rather than typing (thanks to Recent Addresses).
- Uber helps the passenger find the most convenient and safe pickup spot near their location (thanks to Suggested Pickup Points).
- An Uber driver still dropping off their previous passengers nearby receives the request, and is slated as the driver (thanks to the new back-to-back rides).
- The route will take the driver where they eventually want to end up, so they don’t finish their driving session far from home (thanks to Driver Destinations).
- The driver takes the optimal route to the passenger’s location (thanks to Uber’s mapping software it’s developing and improving with its new camera cars, though many drivers still use third-party maps).
- The passenger is notified that their driver is arriving just enough ahead of time that they come outside as the car arrives so the driver doesn’t have to wait (Uber could potentially track how long each passenger typically takes, and notify slow passengers earlier).
- The passenger easily finds their Uber, and doesn’t pace around the street looking for it or try getting in the wrong car (Uber could offer some signal on the driver or passenger’s phone to help them find each other). [Update 12/2/15: A week later, Uber just unveiled a feature that does this. SPOT lets users choose a color on their phone that they can hold up, and a light on their driver’s car will show the same color)
- The car takes the optimal route to the destination, minimizing trip time and wasted gas (again thanks to Uber’s mapping software).
- The passenger experience is pleasant and personalized (thanks to Uber’s Spotify integration so passengers can choose the music).
- The driver receives another back-to-back ride request as they drop off their current passenger, and it all starts again.
A whole other level of complexity comes into play for UberPool carpools but it’s easiest to understand the quest for the perfect ride with traditional trips. Efficiency pays off big time for Uber.
For the company, the quicker it gets people to their destination, the faster it gets drivers back into the available supply. With back-to-back rides, ETAs get even shorter, which encourages people to request rides that instantly earn Uber the flat starting fee.
For drivers, back-to-back rides mean they’re spending less of their gas money traveling between fares when they aren’t paid, and are able to do more rides. That means in the same amount of time on the road, they’re earning more and spending less, even though Uber isn’t paying them a higher cut. Making driving more lucrative boosts driver supply at any given time as well as retention, relieving Uber of the cost of recruiting more drivers.
And for the passenger, back-to-back rides mean they’re going from wanting a ride to being at their destination quicker without having to pay more or share their car.
At Uber’s scale, even shaving a few seconds or tenths of a mile off each trip adds up to big benefits. If you want to know where the Uber (Lyft, etc) app is going, just look at how rides work today and imagine any improvement that inches it towards that perfect ride.
Some likely opportunities: a more personalized and comfortable ride based on your driver interaction, entertainment or climate preferences; a more seamless way for passengers to find their Uber on the street through some kind of identifying signal on the driver’s car or passenger’s phone; and more ways to instantly request a ride from other location-focused apps like restaurant reviews via Uber’s API.