Uber Lets Passengers Schedule Rides Ahead of Time
Remember that time Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick said that pre-scheduling rides is as silly as scheduling his showers?
Well, turns out his opposition to ride scheduling was… flexible. On Thursday, the ride-hailing giant announced just that: The ability to schedule a ride up to 30 days in advance.
“Scheduled rides has been a top requested feature since the very early days of Uber,” director of global experiences Tom Fallows told Fortune in an interview. “Even though we’re an on-demand service, we get it.”
At first, the feature will only be available to business customers in Seattle, though the company will soon make it available to business travelers in other large cities, and eventually to all riders. Uber defines business travelers as either employees of companies that have signed up for an Uber for Business account, used by companies to better manage employee travel, or Uber users who have set up a “business profile” within their own account. Business profiles let users collect receipts for all their work-related rides into one bucket, and pay for them with separate credit cards.
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For now, users can only schedule UberX rides, the company’s cheaper service that involves drivers ferrying passengers in their own cars. To schedule a ride, users tap the “schedule a ride” button, then select the day, time, pickup location, and destination before tapping the “schedule” button. Users will get alerts 24 hours before the scheduled time, then 30 minutes before, and when their car is en route. They can cancel at any time without penalty up to five minutes before the car arrives, similar to Uber’s current cancellation policy. They can also adjust the time and location at any point before the car is on its way.
Uber has been working on the service for “a very long time,” according to Fallows, although he declined to say how long exactly. He did say, however, that Uber employees have been testing the feature, and not only in Seattle (Fortune confirmed with one San Francisco employee that he’s tried it too).
Though the rides are pre-scheduled, Uber doesn’t match a rider with a driver ahead of time. Instead, it has built technology and data models to predict, just a little bit before the ride’s scheduled time, which driver will likely be near the rider’s location, how long it will take them to get there, and when exactly it should dispatch them for that ride. Fallows declined to say whether the feature has ever failed to work properly, although he added that the company is introducing it because “we think it’s reliable.”
Just two weeks ago, rival Lyft announced it would soon start testing a similar feature in San Francisco with its own employees, making it unclear who’s been working on this first. Uber and Lyft have been taking turns playing catch-up to the other when it comes to features and services. Of course, taxis have let their passengers schedule rides in advance to the airport and elsewhere for decades—with a lot less fanfare.