You can now book a vaccine appointment — and a ride to that appointment — in the Uber app.
The new feature is part of a host of product news that Uber announced today under the rubric “go anywhere, get anything.” With more people getting vaccinated, the company is banking on a big comeback to help make up for the steep losses it suffered during 2020. And it’s rolling out a series of new features aimed at enticing lockdown-weary customers back to its platform — whether to travel somewhere or to get something delivered.
The vaccine appointments are being offered nationwide through the company’s previously announced partnership with Walgreens. Since February, Uber has been offering free rides to Walgreens stores for people who book a vaccine appointment but do not have transportation and live in an underserved community. The company says it’s committed to offering 10 million free or discounted rides to people from those communities.
Now that partnership includes vaccine appointments at participating Walgreen drugstores. Walgreens says vaccinations are now available at more than 9,000 locations across the country as eligibility expansion continues.
Uber’s main rival Lyft similarly has the goal of offering 60 million rides to and from vaccine appointments to people from low-income or high-risk communities.
Uber is also offering new and different ways to get around that don’t necessarily involve a vehicle-for-hire. The company is teaming up with rental car services across the country, including Avis, Budget, and Hertz, to offer its customers the ability to rent a car through its app. And for an extra fee, you can also pay to have that car delivered straight to your front door through Uber’s new valet service. That service is only available in Washington, DC starting in May, but Uber expects to expand it nationwide later this year.
The company is expanding its Uber Reserve feature that lets customers book a ride 30 days in advance to more cities, including Paris, London, and “hundreds” of US cities and towns. It’s a sign of Uber’s growing confidence that more people will be taking trips to the airport in the coming months as vaccines become more plentiful and business and leisure travel returns.
For customers who want to use Uber to make multiple stops, the company is introducing a new Hourly feature for reserving rides by the hour. Previously, the feature was only available in Uber Black and Uber Premium, the company’s higher-priced products. Now it will also be available to customers who use UberX.
Uber is also bringing more features to its Uber Eats delivery service, including a Pickup and Go option to purchase takeout food or liquor along your route in a for-hire Uber vehicle. Preorders allow customers to order food from restaurants when they are closed. And the company is including a new option to bundle delivery orders from multiple locations, so customers can get takeout food and grocery items in the same order.
If all of this sounds like a lot of extra work for drivers, it’s probably because it is. Uber and Lyft are both facing a massive driver shortage right now, with many drivers abandoning the platforms over low wages, stressful working conditions, and the decrease in demand brought on by the pandemic. Both companies have responded by hiking rates and offering bonuses to lure more drivers back into their vehicles.
A major challenge for this effort, though, is that COVID-19 continues to be a huge drag on Uber’s and Lyft’s respective businesses. As case numbers spiked over the winter, both companies lost a significant portion of their customer base. People stayed at home, or when they did go out, they opted not to use ride-hailing apps. In the last quarter of 2020, Uber said it had only 93 million “monthly active platform consumers,” its term for users who take at least one ride on Uber or buy at least one meal on Uber Eats — a 16 percent decrease year over year. Meanwhile, Lyft reported a drop in monthly active users of 45 percent, from 22 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 to 12.5 million in 2020.
Both companies will report their first quarter earnings in the first week of May.
*By Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge*