PREFERRED PASSENGERS

Uber is giving drivers a way out of UberPool—but there’s a big catch

In a June 28, 2011 photo, a Toyota Prius hybrid auto bearing a California DMV decal on its left front bumper are seen in carpool…
In a June 28, 2011 photo, a Toyota Prius hybrid auto bearing a California DMV decal on its left front bumper are seen in carpool…
Image: AP Photo/Reed Saxon
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Uber drivers have long sought an opt-out from UberPool, Uber’s on-demand carpooling service. Starting today, the company is giving them one—kind of.

As part of its “180 Days of Change” campaign to improve the driver experience, Uber said today (Aug. 22) that it’s giving drivers the ability to select which types of trips they’d like to do. The setting is available to all drivers in the US and Canada. It’s stored with each driver’s account and can be reset manually through the preferences page.

Many drivers will likely be looking to avoid UberPool pickups. The fares are low, the routes winding and circuitous, and the passengers, drivers say, often irritable—especially those who don’t seem to understand they’ve booked a ride with strangers. In a survey earlier this year, Harry Campbell, author of popular driver blog The Rideshare Guy, found that 57% of drivers were dissatisfied with their UberPool experience.

Image: Uber

Uber is giving drivers a choice between four options: deliveries, such as for UberEats; select, a premium ride option; UberXL, an SUV ride for groups of up to six people; and UberX/UberPool, its cheapest private ride plus its shared rides. In theory, drivers could opt out of Pool by selecting anything other than that last option. The catch is that UberX makes up the majority of Uber bookings and a driver avoiding Pool will have to sacrifice those trips as well. Driving for select or UberXL also requires a nicer car than UberX, meaning many drivers might not qualify for those non-Pool ride options at all.

Other changes announced by Uber include a “friendlier” acceptance rate policy that lets drivers decline more trips without hurting their status on Uber’s platform; “long trip” notifications that flag rides likely to last 45 minutes or more; and an expanded “destination” feature that lets drivers specify where they’d like a trip to end up to six times a day, plus an arrival time for each destination. Quartz previously reported that Uber was testing the long trip feature as well as a “drop-off filter” that lets drivers choose to work in certain areas.

The latest round of changes is designed to convince drivers that they really do get to be their own boss, a common Uber tagline. Uber drivers have always been able to set their own schedules by signing on and off the app at will, but they’ve had little control over other elements of the job, such as where they drive and what kind of trips they pick up. Uber’s pivot toward cheaper rides like UberX and Pool, for example, aggravated drivers who had invested in nice cars assuming that most of their customers would be higher-paying fares.

Uber has years of ill will to undo with the 2 million drivers who underpin its global ride-hailing business. It earned a reputation as a ruthless operator with repeated price cuts, exploitative auto financing arrangements, and numerous court battles to keep its drivers classified as independent contractors. By contrast Uber’s chief US rival, Lyft, paid more heed to the driver experience early on and became widely known as the “nicer” of the two companies.

The campaign to improve relations with drivers comes as Uber the corporation remains consumed by scandal and executive infighting. The company is still without a CEO after co-founder Travis Kalanick was ousted in late June. It also lacks a chief financial officer and chief operating officer, among other top positions. Benchmark Capital, one of Uber’s biggest investors, has sued Kalanick for “gross mismanagement and other misconduct” and another faction of investors is trying to get Benchmark removed from the company’s board.