Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
With its ride-hailing business at rock bottom as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uber is introducing a new feature aimed at riders who need to take longer rides with multiple destinations. Using the new “Hourly” function, riders can set the amount of time the trip should take, thereby locking in a flat, hourly rate for the duration of the ride.
Uber has allowed for multiple destinations in one trip since 2017, but the addition of an hourly rate for these longer, multistop rides is a new approach. Uber seems to be angling for the type of rider who may have once taken public transportation to run multiple errands but now might be avoiding it due to the pandemic. In a statement, Uber’s director of rider operations Niraj Patel also framed it as “an additional earnings opportunity for drivers as we move forward in this ‘new normal.’”
Riders will be charged $50 an hour for this new Hourly feature and will be asked to select how long the trip will last before confirming the ride. The customer will end up paying for the time they selected even if the trip actually takes less time. They can input up to three destinations and rates will exclude tolls and surcharges, too.
There are some restrictions. Customers can’t use the feature for trips to or from the airport, or for rides. There may be mileage limits based on the city — for example, in some cities the limit is 40 miles. Customers will be charged at a per-minute rate for trips that go over the time limit, or the per-mile rate for trips that go over the mileage limit. The rates are prorated based on $50.
Uber first tested the idea overseas in countries like Australia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Now it’s bringing it to 12 US cities: Atlanta; Chicago; Washington, DC; Dallas; Houston; Miami; Orlando; Tampa Bay’ Philadelphia; Phoenix; Tacoma; and Seattle. The company says it expects to expand it to more cities in the coming weeks.
Across the country, Uber is now operating under new COVID-19 safety guidelines, including the requirement that both drivers and riders to wear masks and limits to the number of passengers that are allowed per vehicle. COVID-19 has had a destructive impact on the company’s business. Over 3,700 full-time employees, or about 14 percent of its workforce, have been laid off. And at its nadir, Uber’s riding-hailing business is down 80 percent.