Uber Technologies Inc., bending to customer demand, said people will be able to schedule a ride in advance.
The ride-hailing service is distinguished by its on-demand nature — push a button on your mobile phone and get a car. But some riders have been asking the company to let them schedule a trip. Uber announced Thursday that customers will be able to book a car through its app 30 minutes to 30 days ahead of time.
Last September, Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick dismissed the idea that riders would ever need to request a car in advance. After all, Uber is the most successful on-demand startup in the world. Why would anyone need to schedule a ride in a world where Uber cars are becoming ubiquitous and arrive in just a few minutes?
On stage at Salesforce’s annual conference, Kalanick asked if someone would schedule time with their shower. “You don’t have to think about scheduling time with your shower, you just turn the faucet and it works.”
Uber’s biggest U.S. rival, Lyft Inc., several months ago started testing a scheduled service, which has been a key selling point in its pitch to businesses. Lyft has set its sights on significant growth from its 4 percent share of the U.S. business travel market. The company has been pitching customers on its willingness to work with them to build the features that they need.
Uber introduced its own advance-booking service Thursday, rolling out the feature in Seattle with plans to expand to other cities, the company said in a blog post.
“Scheduled rides have been a top requested feature at Uber since the very early days, even though we’re an on-demand company, we totally get it,” said Tom Fallows, who leads the global experiences group at Uber. “Sometimes you want that extra reassurance.”
The feature doesn’t abandon Uber’s on-demand principles. It is basically just a way of reassuring riders, while still calling cars just minutes in advance. When someone schedules a ride, Uber will calculate the right time to request a car and then send out a request, often just a few minutes before someone needs the car.
“Emotionally it’s a big reassurance that we can provide to folks,” Fallows said.
On the seeming about-face on the matter of scheduled rides? Fallows said he wasn’t at the event where Kalanick made his remarks.
“I don’t know if he said that with a smirk or not,” Fallows said.
However, Fallows said “the single voice that speaks the loudest within Uber is the voice of riders and drivers. When you have a feature like this that is requested time and again by customers you very quickly ask, ‘What can you do to meet this need?”’