Would ad-supported rides take Uber to the next level or just kill it?

There are two ways you can enjoy many services: by forking out cold hard cash, or by putting up with advertisements that support a free model. Uber operates only under the first of those two models, but what if it rolled out a free or discounted ad-supported version? A glimpse at what that could look like has been given by writer Andrew Chen, who has posted some Uber app concept mock-ups displaying different types of ad-based activities riders could use to earn points.

The digital world is full of examples of ad-supported services. Many online music streaming sites, for example, offer music for free in exchange for listening to advertisements, as well as a for-pay option that gets rid of the ads. Some VoIP apps offer free calling credits in exchange for watching videos or downloading apps. And, of course, there are many games that are free to play but include advertisements all over the place.

We've seen criticism of Uber's pricing on occasion — it can be cheaper than taking a yellow cab (not to mention being far more convenient), but if you're using it on a regular basis, those $5 and $10 trips add up quickly. This issue is presented on top of criticism from drivers, who say that their hourly rate after covering related expenses works out to measly amounts.

An ad-supported model would present consumers with a free option, and that would likely result in a big increase in the number of people using the service...not the least of which being due to those who can't afford it now suddenly having it as an option. An increase in users would mean drivers themselves would have more riders to pick up in a day and less downtime or empty trips, increasing their daily earnings.

For all the potential benefits, though, there are downsides. For example, free rides would likely be a scare thing, and the advertisements would instead likely serve as a way to shave a couple of dollars off your bill — something that would make them feel more like a nuisance, as many people would rather pay a little extra to see no advertisements at all. There's also the question of design — as you can see in the mockup above, having an app banner in the Uber app is garish and instantly cheapens the experience...in a bad way.

Any such ad-supported model, should one ever be offered, would likely be optional with the user having the choice to disable it, and in that case having such a feature would matter very little for the rider who isn't interested in it, but offer big benefits for drivers and the company itself. There's always the possibility that we could be looking at a future that's similar to how Hulu Plus operates, though — by charging a fee and showing advertisements on top of it. In that case, ridesharing services could end up charging a premium to get rid of advertisements while keeping overall costs down, further nudging us toward a future where ads dot every landscape.

What do you think? Would you watch a couple videos in exchange for taking a few dollars off your ride? Drop us a comment!