Santa Monica College and Uber have announced a new partnership to promote carpooling as a viable method of transportation for students, staff and faculty.

The new partnership has created dedicated drop-off/pick-up locations on campus, provided financial incentives to try the program and is contributing to a new environmental studies scholarship on campus.

Ferris Kawar, sustainability project manager for SMC, said the college has a history of promoting alternate transit options, including past efforts to promote carpooling, but the new program capitalizes on existing student behavior.

“Students were using Uber for social meet-ups, taking it out on a Friday night or a Saturday,” Kawar said. “We said lets harness that power that Uber has created, which is using technology to know where one person is and where they want to go and match it up with other people that are on the same path.”

With uberPool, riders share a ride – and the cost – with others who happen to be traveling along a similar route.

Michael Amodeo, with Uber’s public affairs division, said the company can see that many Uber trips have a “lookalike” trip – a trip that starts near, ends near, and is happening around the same time as another trip. He said most of these trips transport a single or dual passenger, leaving up to three empty seats. With uberPool the company can match those lookalike trips together, reducing the cost to all passengers while adding minimal time to the ride. The system also benefits drivers who spend more time per hour earning money on longer trips without the downtown of waiting between passengers.

Kawar said the college is offering a financial incentive to first time riders that is having a measureable impact beyond the first ride.

“We’ve actually found there was a really high rate of redemption, using that code to try it for free for the first time,” he said. “After it was used for the first time, there was a 70 percent repeat rate so we’re seeing a pretty high usage of uberPool specifically.”

He said the system is one of several SMC promotes.

“It’s just another tool in our tool box of things people can use,” he said. “It’s not going to always work for everyone. We’ve got Expo opening up, Big Blue Bus, our shuttles connecting the campuses, we also have traditional carpool and vanpool hookups and we have a website where any student or staff member can log in and insert home address and then the school address and be given personalized transportation options. “

Ridesharing companies, like Uber, have had a significant negative impact on traditional cab companies, slashing the number of traditional fares across the country and locally.

Amodeo said Uber views itself as a new mode of transportation that complements and improves existing systems beyond just a taxi competitor.

“A recent study by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found that people who use ridesharing services like Uber are more likely to use public transit frequently, own fewer cars and spend less on transportation,” he said. “We believe Uber can contribute to a transportation system with fewer cars and greater access, where people spend less time stuck in traffic or looking for a parking space. The opening of the Expo Line in Santa Monica is a big step in that direction, and we look forward to playing a part in creating a more robust network of mobility options for people across the city.”

Kawar said the service might prompt more SMC users to rethink their transportation options and even if they don’t use it, any efforts to reduce car trips is valuable.

“Really my pitch to students and faculty and staff is that there’s never been a better time to cut the umbilical cord to your car and leave it at home,” he said.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...