Opinion: Uber's Reserve Program is Mildly Troubling

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Uber is launching a new feature that allows riders book trips up to 30 days in advance. While supposedly innovative, it smacks of desperation following years of multi-billion-dollar losses and an inability to account for pandemic-related lockdowns. The company reported a $1 billion loss in the third quarter of 2020, noting that gross bookings declined by 10 percent year-over-year. While the assumption is that business will improve as more cities reopen, only its business-baked bookings and its increasingly popular delivery services seem to be making any headway.

Reserve, which is what Uber is calling its new booking program, seeks to be another round in its corporate magazine by allowing customers to schedule rides far in advance. But having it serve as a new revenue stream seems wishful thinking because it doesn’t appear to offer much beyond the typical Uber experience since one could already pre-book rides. What Reserve changes is how this is done. The new service adds a flat fee to booked trips that’s dependent upon location and demand.

According to Uber, most fees will range between a five spot and around fifteen bucks. That’s clearly not benefiting riders but they will be able to take advantage of the fare being presented upfront and having the ability to select drivers (including creating a pool of favorites) in the days ahead of the trip. Cars are also supposed to be waiting at the meeting point at the exact scheduled time whilst providing riders with a 15-minute grace period. If the company fails to meet those expectations, it’s supposed to offer customers $50 back in Uber Cash.

This is basically the ride-hailing firm adopting its own version of the same tactics regular car services have been using for a century. It’s not particularly innovative and doesn’t even make strong use of the app-based service that Uber’s entire existence is predicated upon. It also doesn’t appear to provide much more utility than the core business, which typically arrives promptly and where you’ve dropped your pin. But it is a clever way of allowing the company to add charges, even though the driver gets 72 percent of the fee, and bilking you for the full amount the trip if you cancel within the last hour.

Perhaps I’m being too critical of Reserve but it doesn’t seem to be bringing much to the table that wasn’t already there. You pay a bit more to be issued the company’s assurance that a driver will be present at the specified time and that’s about it. Meanwhile, Uber can leverage it as a way to convince businesses to use its services instead of local (and presumably financially hobbled) black car agency as it frames Reserve as this novel concept to the press.

I think Uber is running out of ideas as years of it being a financial black hole — propped up entirely by faithful investors — has taken its toll on goodwill. It’s core service remains decent, especially if you just need to make hassle-free trip across town. But it’s not making it any money, which is why you see it investing so heavily into food delivery and fighting tooth and nail to push through protective ballot initiatives like California’s Proposition 22.

Uber Reserve launches next week, starting with the premium Uber Black and Black SUV/Premier. The company said it believes UberX, Comfort, and XL will be incorporated into the program by the end of the year.

[Image: MikeDotta/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Tim Tim on Dec 18, 2022


  • Tim Tim on Dec 18, 2022

    I just tried to reserve in advance they charge you twice as much By the time it's all done as the offers I get if I don't do it in advance by using the now feature. Try it You'll see what I mean

  • Eric As I would not buy a GM or any other EV the question is moot. As to Apple or Android play, I don't care if the car uses them. I don't use those apps anyway.
  • SCE to AUX I'd want Android Auto.
  • FreedMike They're highly important to me, particularly for navigation.
  • Bill Wade No Android Auto, no car. How else would I listen to Radio Paradise. ;)
  • KOKing "One of the most interesting parts of this situation is that Stellantis, and by extension, the Chrysler Group, is increasingly considered a foreign company instead of a traditional American automaker."Does that mean Simca and Hillman are coming back?