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Uber exploring low-price ‘Express POOL’ service to SFO amid national expansion

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(Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Uber is launching its Express POOL service in six new cities across the nation Wednesday and Thursday, a cheaper, carpool-style service that San Franciscans have enjoyed since November last year.

Locally, however, the service may soon be expanded to offer a low-price alternative for pickups from the San Francisco International Airport.

The Express POOL service is already available for rides from The City to the airport, but in a briefing to reporters Tuesday, Ethan Stock, head of Product at Uber, said airport pickups with Uber Express POOL may be coming soon.

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An Uber spokesperson clarified to the San Francisco Examiner afterward that the company is exploring permit approvals from SFO for pickups.

“We are constantly fine tuning our products,” Stock said. “You’ll be able to get airport drop-offs, but not airport pickups.”

As for pick-ups, Stock added, “that feature is definitely coming soon.”

Rides to and from the airport are considered the Holy Grail of the taxi and shuttle industries, the last dependably lucrative trip, even as Uber and Lyft’s presence at SFO has swelled in recent years — and notably, cut into the profits of taxis serving the airport.

Uber may offer its “Express POOL” service as an option at San Francisco International Airport. (Courtesy Uber)

In response, some taxi advocates in October last year proposed slashing taxi prices to SFO industry-wide, which was met by pushback from others in the taxi industry.

A fare calculator on Uber’s website showed an UberX ride from North Beach to SFO may cost as much as $38, while an Express POOL ride may cost $30. Yellow Cab offers a flat rate to SFO of $35.

The new product could have major implications for other airport serving transportation options as well. BART has also seen a decrease in ridership to SFO which in 2016 the agency attributed to riders preferring Uber and Lyft, the Examiner previously reported.

SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel confirmed they are in talks with Uber to expand access to Express POOL.

“The existing permit would allow for this product, and we’re supportive of efforts like this which promote high-occupancy vehicles to reduce congestion,” Yakel wrote in an email.

The relatively new product, Express POOL, is similar to Uber’s POOL service which is already available at SFO, but with more of an onus of walking on riders. POOL sees Uber drivers make their way to various passengers, allowing multiple riders with similar pickup points and destinations to share the cost of a ride.

Express POOL, however, lowers the cost by asking passengers to walk to the Uber vehicle along a straight route. Usually the distance is a block or so, said Stock.

The service, which already exists in Boston and San Francisco, will roll out to Los Angeles, San Diego and Denver on Wednesday and Miami Philadelphia and Washington D.C. on Thursday.

Data shows the extent ride-hails like Uber and Lyft have grown at SFO in the past few years. In 2015 the ride-hail services only made pickups and dropoffs in the tens of thousands.

Uber made 469,914 pickups and dropoffs in November 2016, the Examiner previously reported, its highest amount since it launched an airport ride.

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