Big news today from Uber: the company is launching a carpooling service, UberPool, that allows people to share the cost of a ride.

[UPDATE: See this post for Lyft’s answer to UberPool: Lyft Line]

Details are still sketchy, but here’s how Uber describes the new beta service:

The idea is simple. With UberPool, you share a ride—and split the cost—with another person who just happens to be requesting a ride along a similar route. The beauty, though, is that you still get Uber-style on-demand convenience and reliability: just push the button like before and get a car in five minutes. When we find a match, we notify you of your co-rider’s first name. Even if we don’t find an UberPool match for you, we’ll give you a discount on your ride. On average, uberX already costs 40% less than taxi. Imagine reducing that cost by up to another 40%! In San Francisco, how about $6 to Uber from the Castro to the Financial District? Or $10 from Sunset to SOMA? At these price points, Uber really is cost-competitive with owning a car, which is a game-changer for consumers. This is also a bold social experiment. There’s the interaction between riders in an UberPool—should they talk to each other? When is that cool and when is it, well, annoying? We’re going to find out how this brave new world of UberPooling works—we’ll iterate on this beta product and get it right, because the larger social implications of reducing the number of cars on the road, congestion in cities, pollution, parking challenges… are truly inspiring.

Uber says the program is rolling out right now in beta form, and it says Google is a partner, noting that “they share our vision of a more energy-efficient world with less traffic congestion and pollution in our cities and are excited to be early adopters of UberPool.” UberPool will expand on August 15.

Although this service may sound great in principle, it would seem to undercut Uber’s other services. But perhaps the company is realizing that folks are perfectly happy with the more casual atmosphere in a Lyft and they’re trying to play up the community angle as a way to challenge the pink mustache.

UberPool iPhone

Source: Uber

Without seeing the details on costs, it’s hard to analyze Uber’s move, but my first blush impression is that this is good news for riders and bad news for drivers. The idea here seems to be “splitting” the costs of the ride, rather than paying a driver. How much of a cut will Uber take? The usual 20 percent?

That said, I wonder if this is a viable model for improving some aspects of transportation, such as the crush of people driving I-70 to reach Colorado’s ski resorts. I’d be willing to take someone else along with me on a day trip–if the price was right, and if they were willing to leave super early on a powder day so we could beat the traffic and make first tracks.