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Uber Rewards Is a Bad Deal for Cities Hoping to Reduce Congestion

Uber’s new points program gives users an incentive to choose solo rides.
A car with an Uber logo rolls down a New York City street.
A car with an Uber logo rolls down a New York City street.Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Many users of Uber rejoiced this week when the company rolled out a Rewards program, offering perks like vehicle upgrades and free trips. Uber’s regular customers will clearly benefit from Uber Rewards, but will cities?  Probably not. As currently designed, the program is poised to worsen urban road congestion.

To understand why, it helps to compare Uber Rewards with a typical airline frequent flyer program, which seems to be its model. Much like members of these programs, elite Uber customers are placed into tiers like Platinum and Gold based on how much money they spend on the service. As with a frequent flyer program, the base number of points that an Uber user receives from a trip is set by the amount she spent on her ride.