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uberhop11111Uber is piloting a new carpooling service in Seattle beginning on Thursday.

Called uberHOP, the service uses designated pickup locations and matches people going on similar routes. The idea is to pack more people in one vehicle, thus saving customers money and increasing efficiency for Uber drivers.

Uber Seattle GM Brooke Steger told GeekWire that for now, uberHOP will operate on three routes from 7 a.m to 10 a.m and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Capitol Hill to downtown, Fremont to downtown, and Ballard to South Lake Union. uberHOP rides will also operate reverse routes, meaning downtown to Capitol Hill, downtown to Fremont, and South Lake Union to Ballard.

[Update: Testing uberHOP in Seattle: Uber’s new $5 carpool service feels like riding a private bus]

It will cost riders a flat fee of $5 for each ride, no matter how many people are in the vehicle. For the pilot, uberHOP will use uberXL vehicles that can hold up to six people. Steger noted that drivers will be guaranteed at least $35 per hour as Uber tests this new service in Seattle.

Here’s how Uber explains the process:

Open the app and select uberHOP. Choose a route and request an uberHOP.

We’ll pair you up with a driver as well as other commuters traveling in the same direction. You’ll then get directions on where and when to catch your ride.

Using those directions, walk to your pickup location where a driver and your fellow commuters will meet you. You’ll need to be on time as your uberHOP driver will leave promptly.

At the end of your journey, you’ll be dropped off at a pre-destined stop so you can walk the last few blocks to work.

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Uber already has an existing carpooling service called UberPool that’s available in several cities worldwide. It’s a little different than uberHOP in that UberPool does not require riders to walk to pre-determined locations, instead having drivers pick up passengers at their exact location.

Brooke Steger
Brooke Steger at the 2014 GeekWire Summit.

Steger said that uberHOP will not necessarily replace UberPool, but rather is another experiment Uber is testing.

“The goal is to reduce the amount of vehicles on the road, get as many people in each vehicle as possible, and utilize partner drivers already on the system to their maximum capacity,” she said. “This is just another experiment with that.”

Uber picked Seattle to pilot uberHOP for two reasons. One was that Seattle is a place where “people have a very high aptitude for technology,” Steger noted. It’s the same reason why Uber rolled out another test last week in Seattle with Uber SPOT, a new feature that utilizes LED lights on driver windshields to help customers locate the right vehicle.

There’s also a growing traffic problem in the city with a constant influx of new residents to Seattle, many of which are taking jobs at Amazon and other tech companies — Uber included.

uber-logo“We all know Seattle has huge congestion problems and there are limited ways for us to expand the current transportation network on the road,” she said. “Our goal is to pull people out of personal cars and encourage them to use alternative forms of transportation.”

Uber went through its internal data to see where the most popular trips take place in Seattle and used that information to determine the three initial routes noted above. The plan is to add more routes in the future.

Steger said her company encourages riders to tell Uber which routes they’d like to see added to uberHOP. She’s also excited to potentially work together with city transportation planners.

“For example, if they know that a bus service is going to be cut in a certain area, we can help facilitate some of that movement of people across the city in a more efficient way,” Steger said.

David Plouffe speaks in Seattle last week.
David Plouffe speaks in Seattle last week.

Thus far, UberPool is proving to be popular and already makes up half of all Uber rides in San Francisco just one year after launching. Speaking at an event in Seattle last week, Uber strategic policy advisor David Plouffe touted the company’s carpooling services as a way to decrease congestion and personal car use, particularly in urban areas.

“We think the current service we have in Seattle, where you press a button and get a ride, is helping because it makes cars more fully utilized,” said Plouffe, who noted that the average U.S. car has 1.2 passengers inside. “But the real payoff is when we bring products here to Seattle like UberPool … then you really begin to get really positive effects.”

Plouffe specifically pointed to commuters that need to get from West Seattle to downtown and noted how something like UberPool can help.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

“They can share a ride with two or three people in that vehicle, which tend to be fuel-efficient vehicles,” he said. “It makes transportation a lot more affordable and brings this service to all income spectrums. We think it’s an important part of what we offer to cities and we’e eager to continue to work with leaders in Seattle — both business and government — to figure out how we can build a city of the future.”

Carpooling has been a key focus for Uber’s leadership team over the past few years as the company, now worth $62 billion, continues to raise investment. In June, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick called UberPool a “real game-changer” during his five-year anniversary speech.

“Think about how many times two people would have been in two separate cars, but now they are in one,” Kalanick said. “Think about how many cars off the road that means. As more people in more cities use UberPool, it will help contribute to the future that Uber has already begun to create: fewer people owning cars, and fewer cars on the road.”

Uber is also testing another separate carpooling service called uberCOMMUTE in Chicago. Already available in cities across China, uberCOMMUTE is less formal than the other two carpooling options and is designed for everyday people that want to share space in their car.

Here’s how Uber describes the uberCOMMUTE process:

  • If you want to share your commute, sign up with Uber and we’ll check your driver’s license and driving record. On the days you’re driving to work and want to share the ride, switch on the app and we’ll pair you up with someone going the same way.

  • If you’re a passenger switch on the app and select uberPOOL, choose the “commuters” option and then enter your pickup location as well as your destination. Uber will then pair you up with a fellow commuter on the way to or from work so you can share the cost of the journey.

  • We will have standard Uber safety features on during and after the ride, like GPS tracking, share my ETA, and 2-way feedback.

In a blog post, Uber said that the two pilots are “an app-based version of something that’s already happening every day,” noting that casual carpools are popular in Washington D.C. and Northern California.

“With casual carpools, commuters line up at prearranged points,” Uber wrote. “Drivers pull up with a sign in their window showing their destination and passengers going to the same place jump in. By using technology we can make this process more convenient, more reliable and safer. It’s a model that the French ride-sharing company BlaBlaCar has proven can work over long distances in Europe.”

We’ll be testing out uberHOP in Seattle, so check back later on GeekWire for that.

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