I Used UberPOOL And I'm Still Not Sure If It Should Be In Australia

I'm in San Francisco this week: the spiritual home of new, weird and wonderful shit you can do with your phone. One of those weirdly wonderful things you can do is order a car to take you somewhere via an app thanks to Uber. The car service has been pushing ride-sharing to the bleeding edge in San Francisco recently with a service tier called UberPOOL that sees you ride with other users simultaneously. Uber wants to bring it to Australia, and I'm still not sure if that's a good idea.

UberPOOL (or carpooling with Uber to break it down) is a simple concept: it's a service tier that matches users going in the same direction and assigns them the same car to ride in. It adds "a few extra minutes to your trip" according to Uber, and costs half the price of taking your own personal UberX vehicle to your destination. Uber is currently running POOL in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Paris.

The service certainly has its upsides. It's great for the environment because it means you don't take unnecessary trips; it really is insanely cheap, and it's actually pretty convenient for common trips like airport runs or inner-city drop offs.

On the other hand, it's kind of weird. Not only are you getting into a stranger's car and just trusting them to safely take you where you want to go, you're also trusting another stranger to jump into the back seat with you and go to pretty much the same rough location.

For better or for worse, Uber wants to bring the bleeding edge ride-sharing tier to Australia, in both Brisbane and Sydney, so I decided to try it while I was in Uber's home town of San Francisco.

After a long, long day covering WWDC, I decided to partake in the Californian institution of an In N'Out burger. I took an UberX down to the burger joint, and after consuming said deliciousness (Cheeseburgers with pickle, served Protein Style, natch), I ordered an UberPOOL back to my hotel on the edge of the Tenderloin district (renowned for being a dangerous area).

My POOL arrived and it was just like jumping into an UberX car, until the driver's app beeped and we went to pick up the second rider. The app gave me her name (but I won't give it to you), and the driver and I travelled to the pickup location. UberPOOL drivers won't wait too long for you to jump in once they arrive so as not to inconvenience the other rider, so it's the additional pickup is usually nice and quick. After about two minutes, the second rider jumped in and we started on our way.

And then something weird happened. It wasn't like getting into the back seat with a friend and chatting as you travel to your destination. It was dead silent, despite my awkward attempt at saying hello.

As the driver sings along to Cyndi Lauper on the radio, I realise that this isn't so much us getting a lift together as it is us getting a bus, only on a smaller scale. In the same way you don't talk to people on a bus or train, you don't really talk to anyone you pool with.

I arrive at my hotel, thank them both for the "company" and exit the vehicle. $7 is charged to my account thanks to a special offer and I'm happy with the service I've received.

As I got into the lift and thumbed my hotel security key, In N'Out still pleasantly digesting in my belly, I started thinking of everything that could go wrong with POOL.

Let's play Devil's advocate for a moment and say that the person you're matched to ride with is a weirdo. You're dropped off at your house which is in the same neighbourhood as them. Congratulations: a weirdo now knows where you live.

What happens if the person you match with has less than pure intentions when getting into the back seat with you? We've heard stories of drivers behaving appallingly, is it really a stretch to think that some riders aren't capable of the same?

It makes me think of all the old "stranger danger" lectures my mother gave me back in the day*. (*she still gives them to me before I travel anywhere despite being 27 years old.)

Ultimately, if I had to choose, I'd say UberPOOL is a good idea. If I hadn't been paired with the mystery mute lady last night then we would have been taking two cars at once to roughly the same place. That's obnoxiously inefficient both for the environment and for the city's roads. That being said, I still have my reservations.

It only takes getting in the car with one weirdo to really turn you off the idea. Since my random companion wasn't a weirdo, it was perfectly fine. But how can the ride-sharing service protect other riders against potentially malicious weirdos? It can't, and we've arrived at the corner of Suspicion and Hesitation, where I'm now living. It's going to take me a while to move from this particular street corner I think.

Would you be happy sharing your Uber with another stranger? Tell us in the comments.


Comments

    Its not really fair to blame your awkwardness and inability to converse with strangers on this great concept.

    I used Carpooling websites to travel through Europe a lot, and it is really amazing as long as you are open to the idea and can hold a conversation. some of the carpooling trips I took were several hours long, some even 6+ hours sharing the car with several strangers and I never had a bad experience.

    There are many people who would much rather get in a car with strangers who they can chat with, share the expense, help ease road congestion and help the environment rather than selfishly take a car by themselves and these are the people that will use the service. People who aren't open to change and are afraid a weirdo might get in with them wont use it and they don't have to, but having the option is there so there isn't any harm in brining it to Australia. Sure, if a weirdo gets in the car with you and now knows where you live, at least you know who that weirdo is and can report them accordingly because you now have their details. If you want to try the service but afraid of this happening (as extremely rare as it might be), then don't get dropped at your door.

    We are way too far behind on the carpooling scene, we NEED something like this.

    Lady in San Fran texting her mates saying "Ugggh I'm in this uberx pool with some creepy Aussie journo" :)

    Everyone's a weirdo but yeah some valid points. I like to think that Uber is a system based on accountability. Maybe some sort of rating system where you can only uberpool after 20 trips or something.

    Anyone in any field can snap and do something insane (driver, passenger, pedestrian, cyclist etc) but if uber can introduce some calculated measurements to avoid stuff like the article mentions then I'm all for it.

    It only really feels awkward because we're conditioned to think of cars as our personal space, mind you, a personal space capable of seating five people that we generally drive with one or two. It's not any more awkward than riding a train or bus, and really it should be less awkward, because you're not as likely to be surrounded by swearing houso's or the mentally ill.

    It's a weird concept. A good idea nonetheless...but I can see why someone wouldn't do it. Take my grandparents for instance, they're so afraid of having their identity stolen. The idea of sitting in a car with some stranger and being dropped off in the same suburb as them would send them into a frenzy. Even if that person was quite friendly. Personally, I'm cool with it. Might meet some interesting people and if I'm stuck with some weirdo it's not like I have to see them ever again. I'd be interested to know if the app has a feature where you could "rate" the person you rode with. Kind of like 'Friendly-happy to ride with again' 'Quiet-not preferable but acceptable' and 'Unlike-didn't get along, not again'...obviously keeping the ratings private.

    I don't get it. Isn't car pooling what Uber is about? It's a "ride sharing" service? Isn't the idea that you're sharing a ride with someone? it's just kind of morphed into a taxi service, but originally wasn't the whole idea ride sharing IE pooling?

    "One of those weirdly wonderful things you can do is order a car to take you somewhere via an app thanks to Uber."

    I'm pretty sure Taxis Combined had an app before Uber even existed. Not that it's anywhere near as efficient as a 30 second phone call to 131 008 (which will call a cab company in every capital city in Australia).

      "what suburb" "page" "did you say, bonython" "operator, operator".

      God damned I hate 13cabs.

      As a longtime and frequent taxi user for work, I smell rotting fish in this comment.

    Nothing weird. Share taxis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Share_taxi) have been around forever including countries far less safe than Australia. Note that these are paid by cash and not tracked, unlike Uber.

    Sorry, I missed the bit where it said you are forced to use it...

    You mean like public transport......where you ride with other people you don't know all the time.

    "It only takes getting in the car with one weirdo to really turn you off the idea. "

    Or, in this case, no weirdos.

    I won't lie.. I thought (hoped?) this was an Uber app for sharing the swimming pool in your backyard.

    I'm not saying this is bad or anything - I don't think it is. It is kind of alarming, however, the way people dismiss legitimate concerns so carelessly.

    It only takes getting in the car with one weirdo to really turn you off the idea.
    Or drunk person.
    Or smelly person.
    Or drunk smelly person.

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