Ride-hailing app Uber unveiled a suite of new offerings this week, from charter buses to skip-the-line food ordering at sporting events, aimed at grabbing more business in more places. Meanwhile, some riders are just hoping their cars show up without a hitch.
Take Jonah Bliss, a marketing consultant in Los Angeles. He said he called an Uber last week to take him to the airport. Before he booked, it listed the wait time as 10 minutes. Once he hit “confirm,” it shot up to 25 minutes. The switch felt disingenuous, he said.
“I work in marketing and am familiar with putting your best foot forward, but it’s hard to know when it crosses the line from being optimistic to being untrue,” he said.
Katie Pilot, who lives in the Los Angeles area and works in export logistics, prefers to take one of the ready-and-waiting yellow cabs when she’s leaving big events rather than wandering up a nearby side street to find her Uber. She still takes Ubers to the airport, but costs are creeping up, she said. Since drivers frequently cancel, she’s taken to paying the $16 fee to reserve her rides the night before. Her seven-mile trip to Los Angeles International Airport last month came in at $55.
“The rates have gotten too pricey to add on as an expense for a day or evening out,” she said.
As some customers report paying more, Uber itself is trying to spend less. The looming economic downturn is driving the ride-hailing giant to cut costs, according to an email from CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to employees, even as its revenue bounces back from a pandemic-era dip. After a series of challenges including driver shortages and spiking gas prices, it’s hard to know where Uber’s latest product announcements fit in — and whether some elements, like autonomous sidewalk food-delivery robots, will ever come to fruition.
Most of the new features Uber announced this week appear to be geared toward relatively small groups of customers, such as event planners, sports fans who really hate standing in line, and people who can use voice assistants without losing their minds.
“Some of these feel almost like a distraction,” Bliss said. “It’s like, ‘The thing you used Uber for doesn’t work, but now you can eat hot dogs at Dodger Stadium easier.’ “
A spokesman for Uber said the company has more drivers in the United States now than it did at any other point during the pandemic, and that prices and reliability are improving. The number of drivers didn’t decrease in response to rising fuel prices, he said, and wait times in Los Angeles, where Bliss and Pilot live, have gone down 10% since this time last year.
Here’s what the company promised customers during Monday’s virtual unveiling.
- Vouchers for events: People planning get-togethers such as weddings or conferences can give their guests voucher codes for rides or meals.
- Voice ordering: Uber Eats will integrate with Google Assistant, so you can say something like, “Hey Google, order me panang curry from Jitlada Thai Cuisine.” It’s available this summer in English.
- Travel planning: If you link your Uber and Gmail accounts, Uber will provide recommendations for ride reservations right alongside your flight, hotel or restaurant reservations.
- Charter buses: Starting this summer, you can rent those big party buses people use for bachelor parties and proms, as well as passenger vans and coach buses.
- Sporting events: If you want food at the stadium but don’t want to stand in line, you can use Uber Eats or Postmates (which Uber owns) to order food from concessions. When it’s ready, you get an alert and can go grab your items without the wait.
- Uber Comfort Electric: Uber’s premium “comfort” option now comes with a special designation if you prefer an electric vehicle such as a Tesla or Polestar.
- Autonomous delivery: If you’d prefer your food be delivered by a robotic rolling shopping cart with eyeballs instead of a human, today’s your lucky day. Uber is testing these gadgets from maker Serve Robotics in Los Angeles, as well as autonomous delivery with an all-electric vehicle fleet from car company Motional.