Uber is rolling out a new feature that lets customers book a ride 30 days in advance called (you guessed it) Uber Reserve.
In some respects, this isn’t entirely new. Uber has been letting customers schedule rides in advance since 2016. Lyft also allows customers to book rides as much as seven days ahead of time. But now, the feature is getting a new brand name, some notable tweaks to how drivers are connected with riders, and a service fee to incentivize drivers to accept these advance bookings.
Booking a car ahead of time has typically been the exclusive realm of for-hire vehicle services like black car and limo companies. Previously, Uber and Lyft, which place a huge premium on efficiency, have said such features are unnecessary when a car can be summoned to your front door in about five minutes. The worry has been that rather than responding to immediate ride requests, drivers would be wasting time circling a neighborhood, waiting for a scheduled customer.
But Uber has changed its tune, and its algorithm, to improve the matching process so drivers aren’t being forced to choose between scheduled rides and on-demand ones.
Starting this week, Uber Reserve will be live in 20 US cities. The process for booking a scheduled ride is much more streamlined than in the past. Rides can be booked as much as 30 days in advance but no less than two hours before the scheduled pickup.
In contrast to how Uber’s done it before, customers using Reserve will be matched with a driver two hours ahead of their pickup and presented with an upfront fare. Previously, Uber would let customers book rides in advance but wouldn’t match them with a driver until at least 15 minutes before the scheduled pickup time.
There will also be 15 minutes of wait time built into the pickup, so customers don’t feel too pressured. And if something goes wrong and the driver doesn’t make it, customers will receive $50 in credit to use in the Uber app.
The upfront fares will include a service fee ranging from $8–12, depending on the market. “Obviously these trips are more expensive than the on demand version of the trip,” said Geoffrey Tam-Scott, product manager at Uber. “We’re trying to enable between the rider and driver the most reliable, assured experience that is possible. And so by adding this extra fee to the fare it makes the trips more attractive to drivers.”
Uber’s ride-hailing business has been pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic but is slowly starting to rebound. Gross bookings in its ride-hailing division, or the amount of money it takes in before paying drivers, fell 50 percent year over year. It’s a grim position but also a steady improvement over the second quarter, in which Uber’s ride-hailing business was down 73 percent year over year. Still, there was no mistaking the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the company’s core transportation business. Uber brought in $2.8 billion in adjusted revenue, an 18 percent decline year over year.
Uber Reserve predates the pandemic, and the company considered whether it was wise to roll out a new product — especially one with clear connections to airport trips — during a time when most customers continue to avoid everything except extremely local trips.
But Uber sees this new Reserve feature as having utility outside the world of business travel. Tam-Scott said it could be used for booking a ride to a doctor’s appointment or the grocery store when crowds aren’t as common.
“There’s still very much this need for certainty and assurance and reliability,” he said, “maybe even more so during the pandemic.”