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With Launch Of UberPOOL, Uber Enters Washington's 'Shared Rides' Market

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UberPOOL will allow drivers to pick up multiple passengers headed in the same direction for lower fares. But Uber is also taking a bigger cut from new UberX drivers.
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UberPOOL will allow drivers to pick up multiple passengers headed in the same direction for lower fares. But Uber is also taking a bigger cut from new UberX drivers.

Uber is entering the growing "shared rides" market in Washington with the announcement that a new platform, UberPOOL, will launch on Oct. 22.

Similar to Lyft's "Lyft Line" and Split's app, UberPOOL will allow drivers to pick up multiple passengers headed in the same direction — for cheap fares.

"We will announce the fare structure on the 22nd, but it will be our most affordable product out there. In other markets we've seen anywhere from 25 to 50 percent cheaper than the UberX option," said Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett. UberX is the tech company's discount ride-hailing service.

UberPOOL enters an increasingly competitive marketplace for cheap rides in the "sharing economy," an ambiguous term that fails to entirely define the changes in personal transport.

"This is part of the story of the sharing economy. It is continuing to allow people to connect with one another in ways they've never been able to connect before," said Chris Koopman, an economist at George Mason University who has researched the rise of companies like Uber and Airbnb.

Tech-driven transportation options are competing not only with traditional taxicab service, but also with public mass transit, a sector that generally has been cheaper than personal car services.

"Ride-hailing companies are expanding the market and opening up the opportunity for people who may have otherwise chosen Metrobus or Metrorail as their option," Koopman said. They "now have something at their disposal that they otherwise didn't have in the past."

While Uber announced the launch of a new product, it quietly informed drivers on its UberX platform that the cost of doing business is going up. New UberX drivers will be charged a 25 percent commission on all fares, up from the 20 percent fee existing drivers will continue to pay.

"This is our way of ensuring that we remain a good deal for D.C. partners," said Bennett. "There are thousands of drivers out on the road right now, and we want to make sure the 20 percent they are used to doesn't change."

Uber's opponents are pointing to the commission increase as more one reason for driver discontent.

"We are hearing that a lot of Uber drivers are very unhappy with what they are earning," said Dave Sutton with the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, which funds the "Who's Driving You?" anti-Uber campaign.

"The company continues to hike up its own cut," Sutton said.

Some Uber drivers are threatening to strike by shutting off their apps through the end of the weekend. Former Uber driver Abe Husein formed a Facebook page under the name "Uber Freedom" and posted a list of demands.

It is unclear how many drivers may participate nationwide. It would cost them an entire weekend of earnings while driving up demand for the drivers who keep their apps on.

"There is a lot of unhappiness. It is anecdotal, but I am hearing it again and again," Sutton said.

Uber's Bennett said if any drivers are unhappy with their arrangements, they are free to talk about it with the company.

"Any partners," said Bennett, using Uber's name for drivers, "that would like to come in and chat through earnings, pricing or any of the challenges they are having, we welcome them into the partner-support center and sit down and do that face-to-face."

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