There’s a secret equation Uber is constantly trying to optimize, where Uber and the driver earn the most money possible while the passenger pays the least. Internally, I’ve heard Uber refers to this as “the perfect ride”. It might seem like the two halves of the equation fundamentally clash, and in a way they do, but the trick is in maximizing efficiency of every part of the trip to make it a win-win-win. That means no wasted gas, the most direct route, the shortest ETA, and a minimum delay and distance between a driver’s rides. Many of Uber’s recent product updates have been designed to get it closer to this perfect ride.
Today it’s launching its latest feature in this pursuit. It allows drivers to receive and accept nearby ride requests while they’re still finishing their previous ride. That means if the closest Uber is currently occupied but could finish their trip and get to you quicker than a vehicle that’s unoccupied but further away, they may be slated as your driver instead. You’d get a car one minute from dropping off other passengers one minute away from you rather than a car five minutes away. Over the weekend in San Francisco I noticed passengers getting out of my assigned car, and the driver told me he’d received my request while still on his last trip. When I asked Uber, it confirmed that after limited testing, the feature is now rolling out globally.
For the company, the quicker it gets people to their destination, the faster it gets drivers back into the available supply. With back-to-back rides, ETAs get even shorter, which encourages people to request rides that instantly earn Uber the flat starting fee. For drivers, back-to-back rides mean they’re spending less of their gas money traveling between fares when they aren’t paid, and are able to do more rides. That means in the same amount of time on the road, they’re earning more and spending less, even though Uber isn’t paying them a higher cut. Making driving more lucrative boosts driver supply at any given time as well as retention, relieving Uber of the cost of recruiting more drivers.