How Uber is keeping customers happy with congestion indicators

Uber adds congestion indicators to encourage people to use its other services
21 September 2018

Uber is adding congestion indicators to encourage users to use alternative modes of transport. Source: Shutterstock

Cities are getting congested. If traffic is bad and you want to go somewhere close-by, an app might be able to get you on a shared bike more quickly than it might be able to hail a cab for you.

That’s exactly what Uber is moving towards — pilot testing new features for its riders.

By overlaying color-coded traffic indicator bars on route maps within the app, the ride-hailing service is pushing its users to consider alternative forms of transports.

Uber’s in-app traffic conditions indicators do not extract estimates from Google, which powers Uber’s maps. Instead, it uses historic trip data of around 10 billion rides collected in-house, and pairs it with real-time data from drivers’ phones. The traffic indicator feature is live for all drivers.

While congestion estimates will help reduce the frustrations of riders when dealing with longer ETAs, it is also expected to keep riders away from checking out what a competitor can offer.

However, it seems as though the offer to choose an alternative mode of transport is what Uber is quite excited about — especially thanks to the tie-ups it can promote with local public transport systems and to its recently acquired JUMP bikes service.

This includes its partnership with Masabi, which allows users to purchase tickets for access to New York’s MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority), plus buses and trains in other cities.

For Uber, this approach costs less and requires fewer humans to fill the demand during peak hours.

The company has been sharing traffic data with city governments since last year through an initiative called Uber Movement. It was meant to show urban planners that they need to make streets more efficient.

Despite claims from Uber that ride-sharing helps reduce traffic and eliminate circling when looking for parking, a new study shows the reverse is true. According to the report by analyst Bruce Shaller, ride-hailing has contributed an overall 160 percent increase in driving on city streets.

Whether the traffic condition indicators are useful remains to be seen. Although, Uber said its long-term goal is to provide users with choices to pick their preferred mode of transport, based on whether they are looking for the cheapest, quickest or most comfortable option.

With city congestion increasing, it is necessary for companies to provide predictions on the road conditions of any given street and at any hour. Unsurprisingly, this gave rise to alternative personal transportation modes like on-demand bikes and scooters.

As for Uber, this is a step towards capturing the market beyond ride-sharing.