Inside Uber’s High-Tech Quest to Make Your Ride Better
When it comes to travel, most people only think of Uber as a way to get you to and from the airport. Your plane lands, you summon the car, you wait for the car, and you’re on your way. But now the ride-sharing company is looking at ways to really streamline your trip. At the Future Travel Experience convention in Las Vegas, Uber’s product manager of rider experiences, Russell Dicker spoke to us about the innovative ways Uber is working its way into the travelshpere.
Dicker told us airport accessibility is the number two contributor to travelers’ overall satisfaction with their trip, according to surveys. “We are almost always willing to try something out, relying heavily on experiments. We often come with an idea on a Monday and have it testing at least one particular location that same week. A lot of the goals we see when talking with airports are more common than we expect. The airport rules are generally well intentioned, but can sometimes get in the way of what they’re trying to do.”
Uber is also looking to do something very beneficial involving traffic management around airports. In a test earlier this year at San Francisco (SFO) the company experimented with anticipatory ride demand. Airlines have flights land in “blocks” or large groups of flights at times very close to each other. This means at 10 a.m. SFO may be going gangbusters, but by 11:30 a.m. it’s a ghost town. By knowing the timing of how busy the airport is at certain times of day, Uber would send drivers from the holding area toward the terminal expecting a ride request.
This process cut the rider wait time significantly from about ten minutes to about three. It also allowed drivers to wait around in the holding area for less time, earning more money. Fewer cars on the airport roads make room for other arriving and departing passengers, also reducing carbon emissions.
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Nobody likes when airlines lose their bag, and the Uber Rush product looks to make that a little less painless. Airlines can have an Uber driver show up to the airport simply to deliver the bag to the passenger. It would restore a lot of goodwill between the airline and their passengers by saving them a trip back to the airport to retrieve the bag. It can also save airlines piles of money by not having to hire a courier service to deliver the bag in many cases. Passengers would be able to track their bag’s movement through the Uber app.
Another travel-friendly Uber product is Uber Eats. It’s a food delivery service, already in some cities but it’s expanding. One Uber driver in Las Vegas explained it to me. Let’s say you order a pizza from Domino's on a busy night, and the wait time is 45 minutes to an hour. Dominos can have an Uber driver pick up your pizza while all of their drivers are already out on other runs. It’s initiated by the restaurant. This could be particularly useful for travelers who just want to stay in and work, or perhaps it’s already late at night, maybe the weather or bad, or you’re not feeling too safe about the area around your hotel.
“Building the future of travel is something we’re passionate about, but we have more questions than answers,” said Dicker. “A lot of people assume we have some master plan for 10 years in the future. We’re in the middle of learning and experiencing all the time. That’s part of our culture.”
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