Uber Without the Smartphone

Issue 07-16-17   |   Reviewer:   Bob Cohen, MBA


Bob Carr and his wife wanted to extend the convenience of a ride-hailing app like Uber to hundreds of interested seniors who weren’t big on smartphones. Under the name Common Courtesy, they developed a workaround by creating multiple Uber accounts to book rides for other people. The concept worked so well that Uber sent engineers to figure out how to expand the idea. The company has since built the one-phone, multiple-rides workaround directly into its app, as a feature called Uber Central that underpins more than thirty affiliated “chapters” of Common Courtesy across the country.

Common Courtesy was among the first groups to test Uber Central, which went live in late April 2017 and has picked up customers including Twenty Four Seven Hotels and roadside-assistance company Agero Inc. The feature lets one user manage as many as fifteen rides at once. Uber officials quickly realized that the single-car driver system no longer meets the needs of an “aging population and their abilities.” The Carrs say they booked about 2,400 rides in June 2017 and that that number has been rising 15 percent to 20 percent in a typical month since they introduced their workaround system three years ago.

Despite billions in venture funding, Uber and rival Lyft Inc. are struggling to turn a profit, and this kind of play for older users shows them moving beyond a simple price war for established customers. For its similar system, Concierge, Lyft has joined with corporate users including Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Sodexo home-care division Comfort Keepers, and Brookdale Senior Living, the largest owner and operator of U.S. retirement homes. Uber has begun testing wheelchair-assistance services akin to a program called Lyft Access, and Carr says he can imagine the software improving, too, evolving to include an emergency call button similar to Life Alert. Both Uber and Lyft are also refining voice commands and other features with an eye to attracting more tech-savvy seniors.

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