In Silicon Valley-speak, “on demand” means requesting a service—laundry, a ride, a massage—right now. All you have to do is push that button. But of course you still have to wait for the ride to come; no one has figured out (yet) how to make it materialize out of thin air.
Now Uber wants to approximate that feeling by letting you schedule your ride ahead of time. When you need it, goes the idea, your ride just appears.
Starting today, business travelers in Seattle will be able to schedule rides 30 minutes to 30 days in advance. It’s the first step in what the company says will be a global rollout of the feature.
“Even though we’re an on-demand company, we totally get it,” says Tom Fallows, Uber’s director of global experiences. “Sometimes you just want that extra reassurance that your Uber will be there when you want to leave.”
After tapping on UberX in the Uber app, users will see a new option to schedule a ride to within a 15-minute window. You’ll set their pickup date, time, location, and destination, and you’ll be able to edit details up to 30 minutes before the pickup time. You can also cancel anytime without a penalty so long as your ride isn’t already on the way. Uber says it will send you reminders 24 hours ahead of your ride, and again 30 minutes before.
Passengers will also get a notification after the ride is on the way that includes, among other information, whether or not surge pricing is in effect. Since surge pricing is a strictly real-time computation, Fallows says, users see only the base fare when they initially order a scheduled ride. But if you’re not willing to pay the surge pricing, you have a five-minute window to cancel without a penalty after the driver is on the way. Wait longer than five minutes and the standard cancellation fee applies. (The amount varies by city: It’s $5 in San Francisco and Seattle, for instance, and 5 euros in Paris.)
What the Driver Sees
Meanwhile, the process on the driver’s end remains exactly the same. “The most efficient way to do this by far is for us to send your ride request to the nearest driver at the right moment,” Fallows says. “So from their perspective, it’s a normal ride.”
Uber does the technical heavy lifting to decide when to send the ride request out, says Fallows, which includes examining such signals as where all Uber drivers on the network are at that moment; where those drivers are headed and likely to be in the next few minutes; and how long it would take those drivers to arrive at your pickup location. Traffic is another factor, Fallows says, as is the likelihood of a driver accepting your request.
Scheduled rides go live today in Seattle, with other “top business travel cities” following soon, according to Uber. At launch, the feature is available only to users who have a business profile set up on the service, and only on the UberX tier. The announcement comes shortly after Uber’s archrival, Lyft, said it was testing a similar feature among its own employees in San Francisco. Lyft said it would like to offer scheduled rides to regular customers but has no definite plan for releasing the feature.