Uber will steer Londoners towards carpooling in future, even though the bulk of passengers prefer travelling individually or with people they know.
The company’s UK head of public policy, Andrew Byrne, hinted at the company’s shift in direction in a meeting with MPs this week. Parliament’s Transport Committee is examining how to reduce traffic in cities, calling on Byrne to represent Uber and answer questions about the company’s impact on congestion.
Although Uber has consistently claimed it doesn’t make traffic worse by adding thousands of cars to the roads, Byrne said the company hoped more of its London customers would use carpooling.
“One of the key things we think about cities, given rising population, given rising demand for mobility and given the fact public transport will never quite get from door to door, we want to use the only extra capacity in system, which is most often spare seats next to someone in a vehicle when they are driving,” Byrne told MPs.
He added that UberPool was only a year old in London, but has accounted for 2 million journeys so far. Elsewhere, UberPool accounts for almost half of all Uber journeys in San Francisco and LA, he said, with the company setting a similar goal for London.
"We'd like to get to 30%, 40% or 50% as we have elsewhere, but I think it will take time in London to develop the use case and loyal users in London," he said. "That may change as you have driverless vehicles, but that's something we don't know."
As Byrne noted, UberPool is not popular in London though neither he nor an Uber spokesman would share exact figures. Sharing a car is still uncommon in the UK, as French ridesharing app BlaBlaCar has discovered.
Apart from helping to reduce congestion, Uber might have other reasons for getting more people into fewer cars, as more economists and transport experts claim its current model is inefficient. Uber's service relies on the constant availability of drivers, something not sustainable for their livelihoods or for the company's bottom line, especially if drivers are to be considered employees.
This might be why Uber has taken steps to diversify its sources of revenue. It is partnering with public transit networks in the US and wants to replicate those partnerships in the UK. During the committee session, Byrne also referenced a move towards driverless cars, and the company has just filed yet another patent relating to autonomous vehicles.