Uber launched a new service in Chicago Thursday that seeks to get more people in the same car at the same time — and could possibly eat into CTA’s ridership as well as customers from direct competitors Lyft and Via.
Express Pool requires customers to walk up to two blocks to meet up with their ride, which will be shared with other random customers who are headed in the same direction. And the app will spend up to five minutes processing a request in order to most efficiently pair riders who are going the same way. Riders won’t be dropped off at their exact destinations, but within a two block walk.
The walking and the extra computing will reduce the often circuitous and frustrating routes experienced by UberPool customers who are each picked up at specific locations after being matched with other riders just moments after requesting a ride.
The new service will operate throughout Chicago but not at its two airports.
The rides have been up to 40 to 60 percent cheaper than UberPool rides in the eight U.S. cities that currently offer Uber Express.
The new service is not unique.
The ride-sharing company Via began offering Chicagoans a similarly cheap, not-quite-door-to-door service in 2015. There’s also Lyft Shuttle, which operates more like a bus, offering fixed routes with predetermined stops during morning and evening commuting hours.
Uber spokesman Ethan Stock noted that he “absolutely expects” that as more people share rides in the same car, the need for individual rides in UberX cars will decrease, resulting in less traffic congestion.
Uber, like other ride-sharing companies, claim their services are complimentary to CTA trains and buses.
But last year, CTA President Dorval Carter cited a loss in ridership to ride-sharing companies as one of several reasons behind a 25 cent fair increase that took effect in January.
Low gas prices, a drop in state funding and a $33 million hole in the agency’s 2018 budget were other contributing factors, Carter said.
Transportation expert and DePaul University Professor Joe Schwieterman said Uber’s new service could potentially siphon off more CTA customers if the transit agency doesn’t respond with an increased sense of urgency “to boost speeds and improve service quality.”
He also cited a recent DePaul study that found room for the CTA and ride-sharing companies to foster a more symbiotic relationship.
Two examples named in the study of how this can be accomplished: allow ride-sharing customers to use their Ventra accounts to pay for rides and allow discounted rides to bus and rail hubs.