Fresh off a set of legislative and regulatory victories in Massachusetts, Uber on Wednesday unveiled a new feature for its Boston-area customers: the ability to book a ride in advance.
Uber’s “Scheduled Rides” service debuted earlier this summer in Seattle, and is now being rolled out to Boston and other cities. It allows users — for now, only those with business accounts — to schedule an UberX pickup 15 minutes to 30 days before it’s actually needed.
“This is the top-requested feature from our riders, especially for times like early morning trips to the airport,” the company said in a statement. “While we pride ourselves on providing on-demand rides, we understand that when you have to be somewhere at a specific time, it’s nice to have the assurance a ride will be available when you need it.”
Nonbusiness customers will be able to schedule rides after a few weeks, the company said.
From an Uber driver’s perspective, scheduled pickups are the same as regular on-demand requests. When the time of a scheduled pickup is nearing, Uber’s software determines where drivers are located in relation to the pickup spot and how bad traffic is, among other variables. The software then calculates the optimal moment — when a driver is the most likely to accept the fare and show up exactly on time — to broadcast the request on behalf of the rider.
Uber’s mobile app will give customers an initial cost estimate when they book trips in advance, but the bill could be higher if surge pricing is in effect at the time of pickup. The app will also remind customers of their upcoming scheduled rides and give them a brief window to cancel if their plans have changed. The service does not allow riders to book a particular driver.
Lyft, Uber’s main rival, has also announced a scheduling service, though it has not rolled out in Boston yet.
The launch of the scheduled rides service comes the week after Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill into law that regulates and taxes ride-hailing companies in the state. That measure was widely seen as a win for the industry, as it allows Uber, Lyft, and other similar firms to continue operating without significant new restrictions. (Some members of the local taxi industry, meanwhile, have decried the law as a death knell for traditional cabs.)
The passage of the law also prompted Massport chief executive Thomas Glynn to rethink his previous opposition to allowing ride-hailing pickups at Logan Airport, which his agency oversees. Glynn said Massport officials would meet with Uber and Lyft soon about setting up a waiting area for their drivers near the airport and other logistical issues, with an eye toward allowing airport pickups within three months.
Currently, only Uber drivers whose cars have livery plates can pick up passengers at Logan, though there are no restrictions on drop-offs.
Meanwhile, Uber on Wednesday also released limited data on the first year of its UberPOOL carpooling service in Boston, which allows customers headed in the same general direction to save money by riding together.
The company said UberPOOL has been requested 5 million times in the region, and saved Boston-area users a combined $22 million over the past year. UberPOOL now accounts for about 30 percent of all ride requests, the company said, though it declined to say how many of those actually involved two passengers. (The service doesn’t always find a second rider with a similar trip.)
UberPOOL has drawn criticism from some drivers, who say the service often sends them on illogically circuitous routes and doesn’t pay them enough.