Have you heard of Uber Comfort? It’s a new program Uber is beta testing in cities across the country, including Austin, Phoenix and Atlanta. RSG contributor Paula Gibbins covers what Uber Comfort is, its roll out in cities nationwide, and how it’s affecting drivers.
Has Uber Comfort rolled out in your city? Let us know in the comments or via email how it has affected you and your earnings.
Uber Comfort sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well, it was a bit of a shock for drivers in the Phoenix area when it was recently beta tested without their knowledge or consent. I spoke with a driver in Phoenix about his experience and while it was a shocker to begin with, he does see the overall upside of Uber Comfort. Unfortunately, the beta test roll-out just wasn’t quite handled very well.
What is Uber Comfort?
Uber Comfort is kind of a cross between and Uber X and an Uber XL as far as space goes. The concept seems to be to make the passenger comfortable by guaranteeing more room. For instance, if you have a long trip but are traveling with four or fewer people, you don’t necessarily want to be crammed into a Prius, which isn’t exactly known for its leg room. You’d likely be more comfortable in a crossover SUV that seats four people and gives you some space to relax and spread out.
Uber even has more legroom as a perk listed on their passenger app:
What is the cost? Again, that’s kind of a cross between and X and an XL. The cost is more than an X but less than XL because you’re not guaranteed an XL sized vehicle, but you’ll be given a vehicle that has been judged by Uber to give you more room. Here’s a brief breakdown of cost:
And, here’s what some drivers saw when Uber Comfort beta testing started:
Learn more about Uber Comfort in this explainer video from Rideshare Revolution:
So, What Happened in Phoenix?
One day, out of the blue, an Uber driver noticed that his next request for a passenger pick up was called Uber Comfort. It was something he’d never heard of or seen before, so he assumed it was just a fluke, a flaw in the system. It happens, no big deal.
This driver drives a full SUV, able to hold up to six passengers and is used to giving XL and Select rides only. He naturally assumed that this ride would be at the same rate as a regular XL or maybe somewhere between an XL and a Select. But, as it turned out, once he was finished with the trip, he was being paid less than XL and closer to what he’d get if he accepted X fares.
He wasn’t the only one who noticed this. Jason, the driver I spoke with, didn’t actually get any requests like this but had heard from his fellow drivers what was going on and immediately called Uber support to try to disable this feature on his phone. He did not want to get stuck doing these rides that pay him less than what he signed up for — he only wanted to pick up XL and higher option rides, not X.
Uber support let him know that was not something they could do because it’s in beta testing and that he should take the issue to his local Greenlight Hub. Well, Jason wasn’t terribly happy about that option because it would mean not making any money during his regular driving time, but he wanted this worked out, so into the Hub he went.
When he walked in, it was packed full of drivers upset about the sudden change, trying to figure out what is going on. What did the Hub have to say?
“It’s not attached to your car, it’s attached to you,” Jason was told. “We can’t turn it off.”
That was odd, but they did offer to put Jason on an “opt out” list, so he did that. As an SUV driver who is eligible for XL and Uber Select, he just did not want to lose money with rides that were closer to the income of X rides.
How Might This Affect Uber XL?
It could negatively affect Uber XL, at least at the beginning. There are several people who take rides from the airport and just want a little extra room but don’t want to pay for an XL ride. This would obviously be a great option for passengers in that situation, but could hurt the thriving XL market at airports around the U.S.
In Jason’s experience as an XL driver, he knows people will pay more for a larger vehicle just because they want room. Even if it’s a single person riding in the vehicle, they want that comfort, but if they don’t have to pay for an XL but are giving more room than the smallest available model cars, they’ll do it time and again.
On the other hand, he knows that small SUVs that are marked as Uber Comfort will not necessarily replace XLs because, in a specific example he gave, if someone had surgery and needs a wider door and more leg room, they’ll still need to request an XL, a small SUV will not cut it and passengers will quickly realize this after testing the waters with Uber Comfort.
Is There Any Way This Could Work for Drivers?
While it was a surprise and did not work well for full SUVs and other larger vehicles, Jason admits that he does see a market for this if used properly.
“I think it would be good if you had a small SUV,” explained Jason. “You have those small to medium sized SUVs out there running as Uber X that barely pays anything. I see the benefit for those guys. The X driver wants it because they see it as a kind of raise.”
Another upside he saw is many of these rides end up being longer rides, which means more money for those who end up taking those treks. An Uber X driver would earn more for those rides if they were booked under Uber Comfort, but an Uber XL driver would earn less than they would normally.
The biggest question mark is what qualifies for Uber Comfort? There’s not currently a list of cars in the U.S. that are considered qualifying for this service. We reached out to Uber for a comment, but they did not provide us a list of cars being considered or added to the beta testing of Uber Comfort.
Where is Uber Comfort Being Beta Tested?
Uber was unable to provide us a list of cities where Uber Comfort is being beta tested, but from what I’ve pieced together, it seems like Uber Comfort is being tested in Atlanta, Chicago, New Jersey and Phoenix. Only time will tell if this is going to stick around. Uber could roll it out to more cities in the future or let it fizzle out.
In a statement from Uber about Uber Comfort: “We are always looking for ways to improve the rider and driver experience on Uber. What you’re seeing is a limited U.S. experiment to support those efforts.”
This rollout was, in short, a pain. Without giving prior notice to the drivers, it forced people to accept rides where they were uncertain of the pay expectations and if it was a new change that would be permanent. It also made those drivers take time out of their day typically spent earning money to go and figure out what was going on.
For phone support to not be able to help was also bad planning on Uber’s part. To force people offline to figure out what was going on was a bit ridiculous.
It might be a good thing in the future, but it wasn’t executed very well this time. More transparency is often the answer and in this case, it may have gone over better if people fully understood what was going on up front.
Readers, has Uber Comfort rolled out in your city? If so, what do you think of it?
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-Paula @ RSG
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