“are you experiencing a significant uptick in Surcharge Pricing?”

Photo by PoPville flickr user available_photons

“Dear PoPville,

I would be curious to know if people are experiencing a significant uptick in “Surcharge Pricing” with UBER Black Car and UBERX lately. I’ve in the last 30 days or so (almost specifically since they dropped UBERX rates 15% earlier this year) had virtually every ride regardless of time/day have a minimum of 1.3X to 2X-4X pricing. Possibly it’s just a shortage of drivers and uptick in demand because of time of the year, weather, etc… or possibly it’s something else?! That being said I still prefer UBER to DC Taxi’s but is LYFT an alternative? What do people prefer for car services in DC?”

102 Comment

  • Because Uber has cut fares, drivers are making less. This encourages them to collaborate to turn their Uber-provided iPhones off or set their availability to unavailable, then use their personal phones to check the surge pricing.

    This was predictable: once Uber got a hold on the market and became a household name, the loss-leading cheap rides that brought them so much business will turn into having their customers by the balls.

    • Very interesting….makes sense.

      I’ve definitely noticed it a lot more recently, even non-peak times when the weather is nice.

    • Very interesting..

    • I’m experiencing this too — I think everyone who rides Uber is — but assumed that the lower fares were spurring more people to ride, resulting in higher demand. Either the supply or demand could be the issue. Maybe both at the same time. I think the company has been slowly easing the DC market into a dynamic price model, where you only get the low prices at (very) off-peak times. Otherwise, the price will fluctuate via surge pricing according to supply and demand.

      • The drivers are not afraid to post about this online, I’m just repeating what I’ve read on places like Reddit and other message boards. Anecdotally, most drivers I’ve had tell me they’ve only been driving for Uber for a few weeks or months – many old-time drivers stopped doing it once the fare cuts kept happening.

        • I didn’t mean to cast doubt on what you said — I totally believe it! I just meant to add that higher demand could -also- be an issue.

      • I used Uber at 5:30AM today and surge pricing was in effect.

        • That’s because there aren’t a lot of drivers on the road at that time. I had someone once tell me he just works from 4am-10am every day because there are so few people on the road and pretty much all passengers are taking long trips out to an airport.

          • I’ve taken early trips to the airport tons of times and NEVER had surge pricing. There aren’t as many drivers, but there also aren’t as many people who need drivers.

    • My Uber driver on Tuesday told me he something about Uber drivers trying to manipulate surge pricing. It was probably this scam but his English wasn’t great so I’m not entirely sure.

      • palisades

        But is it really a scam if they’re the ones getting scammed in the first place? They’re just trying to make money and uber keeps screwing them over.

        • Accountering

          I don’t think Uber lowering prices is a scam. It is a party offering lower pay for a service. Not a scam in the least.
          Drivers colluding to create a surge is a scam though.

          • Why is that a scam? It is a party refusing to work for lowered pay. Not a scam in the least.

          • Accountering

            I see what you did there.
            Care to wager if they are breaking Uber’s rules by colluding with other drivers to create surge conditions? Perhaps scam is not the right word, but they are certainly breaking Uber’s rules.

          • The problem with Uber lowering their prices, was that many cab drivers left their cab jobs to work for uber (because originally you could make more money and it has great flexibility. However those people had to buy or lease relatively new model cars. Then uber dropped their prices and drivers were stuck with the same overhead, and making less money. Now at the same time, gas prices have decreaeed so it may have worked out ok, but these are the things I here uber and cab drivers complaining about. However I would also like to note that cab drivers hate their companies just as much as they hate Uber stealing their business.

  • I’ve definitely noticed this too. Not sure what’s going on.

  • It’s not just you, I’ve definitely noticed the same thing. Lyft cars are scarce, you’ll have at least an 8 minute wait until one can get to you.

    • I’ve been using Lyft more lately because I got a bunch of free/discounted rides when I signed up, but it’s had some form of surge pricing almost every time I’ve used it.

    • I have not experienced waits like that using lyft. I got one this morning at Quincy and New Hampshire in 2 minutes (no lie) and regularly never have to wait more than 4 minutes. I turned on the app right now, just to see, I work in Penn Quarter and there are 8 cars nearby, the closest is 2minutes.

  • You’re definitely not the only one who’s noticed it! Monday evening I was trying to get home and UberX was on Surge Pricing the whole evening. Monday! Nothing special going on! I get how they spin the surge being a ‘good’ thing to get drivers out, but this is ridiculous. I’m not usually so cynical-but it does come off as them getting some good PR off dropping rates, without actually having to give up any revenue by imposing surges more often. Lower rates = drivers less motivated = less drivers = more surge….

  • Yes, I have! Not only with UberX, but also Lyft. I don’t even take use them that much, but it almost always seems to be surge. It’s not worth it for me to take it if it’s surge unless I can’t get a cab.

  • I take Uber home from Silver Spring to Petworth every weekday. Have only had surge pricing twice in the last 6 months. Normally leaving the office around 6PM.

    • Really? We were charged surge pricing last Saturday to get from downtown Silver Spring to Union Station. Our ride flaked so we were in a bind, but I think it cost about $30 – AKA the same as cab price gouging.

    • Why don’t you just take the 79 bus? I don’t get why people are so eager to commute by taxi.

  • I thought it was because I got 5 free rides from the Lyft referral, you know them trying to charge me something. Monday night @ 8:30, I paid 23.00 for a ride that normally costs $13.00. Really is annoying. I am dropping Uber all together, they should have recoupped enough on NYE to last all year (At one point my fare was projected to be 8x the normal rate, when I finally decided I didn’t want to actually fight for a cab, my fare was 4x normal rate). The person who gave me the Lyft rides said that they normally don’t surge at the same time. So if Uber is surging she takes Lyft and vice versa. I am all over the ZipCar $29.00 weekday rates, I get my business handled for less than a car service ride. That’s all I got…

  • Yes! I almost never got surge pricing before and the last three times I’ve used Uber, they’ve had surge pricing. Always either 1.9 or 2X, so about double the usual fare.

  • I’m turned off by Uber’s business practices (despite having had generally very good experiences with the drivers) so I tried Lyft a few weeks ago. The driver was good, but I had to contact their customer service for some other reasons. The response was rude and unhelpful (and very very slow, compared to Uber’s typical 15 minute customer service email response time). So I’ve reluctantly gone back to Uber.

  • Ugh, I’ve noticed it a ton too! Every time I go to use Uber it’s surge. I’ve downloaded the Surge Protector app, which helps you find little pockets with non-surge pricing- sometimes nearby, sometimes too far away. Mostly I’ve been walking to avoid paying surge.

    • Thanks for sharing the Surge Protector app! A modern, technological check on greedy businesses…

    • palisades

      Whoa. This changes everything. Don’t tell anyone else about it…

    • If it’s too far away I will hail the Uber to wherever there isn’t surge pricing then call the driver and give them my real address. That may be ethically questionable, but it’s survival of the fittest in the cab world.

  • I rode with an Uber driver right before the latest 15% decrease in fares, and he told me the decrease was meant to make the surge pricing more palatable on a regular basis and that once we were all used to it the fares would go up. He could have been disgruntled, but seemed like a logical analysis to me. Just on principle I don’t take Ubers when there is surge pricing…

    • This is exactly it, and the real point I was making in my top comment above – Uber hooked us (ie young professionals, mostly) and now they’re going to really tighten the screws.

      • And anyone who wanted to start a car sharing service could come right in and loosen those tightened screws. This conspiracy theory just doesn’t make much sense.

      • yeah, but that’s what i don’t understand – why wouldn’t people just hail a cab in that case? there are a few times when i’ve been in a scenario where i was not in a place/situation where cabs would be driving by. but by and large, i am.

  • Definitely noticed the same thing the past few weeks but thought it was just me. The shine on the Uber name is starting to wear off for me

  • I’ve noticed it a few times but not all the time.
    I also have had my fares to Dulles as low as $36 recently. Even in the snow the other week – my uber SUV fare from Dulles was only $128 – when supply was 0 and demand at Dulles high. Its still a deal compared to taxis and black cars.

  • i totally agree. In the past three weeks, every time I go to get an uberx there is a surcharge, regardless of day and time. I don’t think it’s because of demand, I think uber just wants more money. The driver doesn’t get the extra money one told me. Uber is getting too obnoxious.

  • I hope you all come to the same conclusion that I’ve come to which is that Uber is a quintessential scam and a racket. They lure drivers into being “partners” (aka working for them) for no benefits or guaranteed wages and then flood the market with more drivers to justify them lowering the prices for consumers. Then when consumers start latching on due to “taxi anxiety” or whatever, they just jack the rates up again via surge pricing. A business I am quite happy not to support.

    • Yeah, I deleted the app about 3 months ago because they seem to have no shame. I have only had to rely on my fiancee’s app/phone once or twice in that time. They don’t miss me though because I only utilize Uber or Lyft maybe once every 2 weeks, maybe even only once a month. Then when we have used Uber or Lyft lately the service hasn’t been great.

    • I agree, but I’ve had so many bad experience with taxis that I’ll put up with it (and Lyft failed totally on my one attempt with them).

    • I was almost raped by taxi drivers on two occasions. Call it “taxi anxiety” if you like, but I’m sticking with Uber.

      • Just Google “Uber rape” and numerous (and recent) cases will come up. Despite traceable GPS, sexual predators will still try to find a way to commit their heinous crimes.

        • Yes, but in those cases the drivers were easy to arrest and get convicted for their crimes. Regular cab drivers usually get away with it, which I think would make them more likely to do it in the first place. I generally avoid cabs of any kind, especially when traveling alone, but if I have to do it I feel safer in an Uber.

      • Would you mind sharing your story with us?

        • I was out late one night and hailed a cab that already had passengers in the backseat. The driver said he was going my way and let me get in the front (I was new to the area and didn’t realize this is not normally done). After he dropped off the other people he drove to a dark empty parking lot, grabbed my arm, and shoved his hand up my skirt. I managed to get out of the car and run away but never got any information that could identify him. I’ve since heard a similar story from a couple other women.
          The second time I was in the backseat and saw it coming– driver took me to a dark empty parking lot, refused to answer my questions about why we were there, reached over to grab me– and I bolted. So he called the cops who didn’t believe me and had me arrested for refusing to pay the fare.

    • Sadly, while you are right, many of us will continue to use them. How many of us use iPhones manufactured by effective slaves? This is defeatist sounding, I know, but if you’re really interested in living as ethically as possible you’ve got to be prepared to do a lot of things on your own – like grow your own food, build your own housing, not use many consumer electronics, etc. The ethical woes of the modern yuppie!

    • I hope you all come to the same conclusion that I’ve come to which is that Uber is an amazing service and with numerous benefits to the public. They allow drivers to be “partners” (aka working for them) with no mandated schedule and little education and they recruit drivers so that they can lower the prices for consumers. Then when consumers keep demanding their services so that we can avoid driving drunk or whatever, they pay drivers more per trip to increase supply via surge pricing. A business I am quite happy to support.

  • I’ve had approx. 1.5x surge pricing the last few times. With the new fares, it sometimes comes out cheaper than an UberTaxi and probably about the same as Uber’s old fares, depending on the distance. If I see that it’s surge pricing, i might try to hail a cab, but more often than not, I’m somewhere where cabs don’t pass often.

  • I tried Lyft a bit and liked it a lot. They do have an equivalent of surge pricing (Prime Time, it’s called) but it changes pretty frequently so usually if it’s on, you can just wait a few minutes and it will go away. Many of the drivers I had said they work for Lyft and Uber and prefer working for Lyft because they make more money. Plus Uber has all those weird corporate scandals that make me feel negative about them.

    Also contrary to what some folks have been saying here there was never too long a wait with them — usually about 5 minutes to get a car (which was fine since I usually called it before I wanted to leave anyway).

  • “Possibly it’s just a shortage of drivers and uptick in demand because of time of the year, weather, etc… or possibly it’s something else?!”

    In the past 30 days we’ve seen the worst of the winter season, including significant issues with snow removal across the city. But let’s open Pandora’s box of hysterical speculation! It could be the nefarious ride-share cabal, coordinating fares that are still less than DC cabs. We also can’t forget any implication on WMATA’s part!

  • It also depends on where you are: there are surge prices in Eckington right now but nowhere else. Literally moving the pin just across North Cap removes the surge.

  • I’ve noticed it too and generally avoid taking Uber during surge pricing. Of course, this is entirely irrational because I definitely pay more to take metro during peak times without thinking about it.

  • I’ve had pretty good luck using Lyft. If uber isn’t available or is surge pricing i’ll turn to lyft. I’ve always found their drivers very friendly and conversational – a change from uber.

  • I predicted this over a year ago on PoP’ville and most people said “No way, the free market will take care of this! Cabs suck!”
    In case you haven’t noticed, Lyft has no where near the same amount of drivers as Uber. It’s not yet a viable alternative. And yes, Uber’s entire corporate philosophy is to become a monopoly by putting government regulated taxis out of business. The comment above about the true reason for the price drops – in order to get you more accustomed to Surge Pricing – says it all and makes sense.

    • Isn’t this exactly how the free market takes care of it? 🙂

    • Generally when I see surge pricing on Uber, I immediately go to Lyft–lately, they’ve been surge pricing too, though, which makes me think demand actually really is outstripping supply. Or that Uber is driving people to another app.

      The problem with Uber, long term, is that they’re in a very hard industry to become a monopoly in, because they’re just a middleman. As long as Lyft and Sidecar (even small as they are)–as well as cabs, bikeshare, and the Metro–exist, there will always be other options. I love Uber, but if there’s surge pricing, I’ll try another method of transportation. Sidecar has been having $3 rides for the last month, and I’ve been taking them literally any time I can. The Uber brand really has not nearly as much equity as they think, aside from being the first and the biggest.

    • And yet there are still plenty of cabs around, so this conspiracy to establish a DC monopoly seems to be going rather poorly. Furthermore, I really don’t get people that are addicted to Uber or cabs. Over the past year I can recall using Lyft once, a cab 2-3 times and Uber not at all. Usually between metro, buses, bikes and walking I’m all set.

      • I like Car2Go for most things more than anything else. I can park anywhere, its faster than anything else most of the time (in high traffic biking and public transit can be faster depending on the route). ITs cheap (well not as cheep as biking or metro), its safe (or as safe as I am at driving). Nothing not to like. I wish the whole city converted from private cars to car2go, that would be awesome. Car2Gos everywhere. And noI don’t work for them I just love it. And yes it does have some problems. The cars don’t always open or sometimes you have trouble ending your trip, but most of the time it is seamless.

  • Simple answer, yes. I had a really excellent driver take me to National last week (fledgling professional and CoHi native working part time to supplement), and we talked about this at length. One thing I had no clue about was that surge pricing is now hyper-local. She could be offered surge bonus on one block, and a friend a block over might only be offered base fare. From that I’d guess that Uber has so refined their algorithms down to neighborhood/street level that they can be much more dynamic with surge pricing as opposed to slapping it on an entire city.

    • “surge pricing is now hyper-local” — I just wanted to amplify this comment because I heard the same thing and absolutely believe it. I wonder if the Surge Protector app is a good way of monitoring this. Checking it out now.

  • lovefifteen

    Yes, I have noticed the huge upswing in surge pricing.

  • I just don’t understand why people like Uber so much. Amateur drivers from the burbs who have no idea how to get around the city. I’m constantly telling them where to go, watch them take suspiciously long routes, blast music…

    • Accountability. If something bad happens you have a record of exactly who was driving you, and when and where. I’ll put up with those minor inconveniences you listed in order to have peace of mind.

      • But it’s just a general incompetence, not outright wrong-doing. I’m not sure what peace of mind putting your life in the hands of untrained amateur drivers gives you.

        • Given that Anon for This has twice been almost raped by taxi drivers, I think it’s completely understandable that she’d value the accountability factor over a cabdriver’s supposed driving “skill.”
          I put “skill” in quotation marks because I’m thinking of the cabdrivers who drive like maniacs, text while driving, etc., etc. And having been fingerprinted (and presumably having undergone a fingerprint-related background check) doesn’t seem to have stopped various taxi drivers from sexually assaulting (or attempting to assault) their passengers.

        • Also, let’s not pretend that cab drivers actually have any special training. They’re often the worst drivers on the road.

          • Yeah. It’s not like they’re London “black cab” drivers and have to pass a test known as “The Knowledge.”

    • Several reasons:
      1) Cars are cleaner
      2) The UberX drivers I’ve had aren’t any worse (in many cases better) at driving than the taxi cab drivers I’ve experienced. I’ve had to give them directions or correct their routes as often as Uber.
      3) Ability to pay using saved information on a phone. When I get into a taxi there’s a good chance the machine will be “broken”, so I won’t even consider one unless I have cash on hand.
      4) Fewer sketchy experiences. Luckily I’ve never been sexually assaulted by a cab driver, but I have had some that were belligerent, picked up extra drunken male passengers on the way to taking me home (alone at 2am), etc.
      5) Much easier to get a ride. When I lived in SW it would take at least an hour for a cab to come (even though there was a line waiting outside the hotel a few blocks away), and often refused to take me home. I know this is technically not allowed, but if I’m alone I’m not prone to starting an argument.

      The cheaper price is also nice.

  • I can’t believe people are whining because the drivers aren’t making money and decide to collude to drive up the price of their services. If you were making 90 cents or whatever the ridiculous price structure is at the moment, you’d do the same thing. Make your services scarce to drive up prices. The drivers have stated this argument on reddit. What do you think would happen once uber got a foothold?

    Re: breaking uber rules. Uber doesn’t care about rules and regs and neither their divers.

  • Hello? Use Car2Go. Much better. No surging. Ever

    • I do not want to, and would prefer others not to, use car rental services to get home from bars at 2am when they’re drunk.

    • I used Car2Go but it’s useless in the neighborhoods after about 8am because all the cars are downtown. You also have to find long-term parking for it at your destination, which is not easy downtown.

    • Not to mention that to use Car2Go, you have to have (1) a Car2Go near your starting point and (2) a place to park it when you arrive at your destination.
      If you’re female, a good chunk of the rationale for taking a cab/Uber/whatever is NOT having to walk, say, 2 blocks from where you parked your car to where you live.

  • Me, when I’m 80: Remember when unregulated Uber was a panacea to terrible taxis? Those were the days.

  • I’ve been noticing surge pricing on Uber a lot lately, too. Usually between 1.2-2.3x increase, mostly during rush hours. But occasionally during midday as well. Re; Lyft, I tried them during the 20 free rides promotion and was not impressed. They are almost always on surge pricing and go to 2x-2.5x pricing way more often than I thought was reasonable. And I definitely think they have a smaller fleet. I would often get drivers coming from Rosslyn to pick me up downtown.

  • Yes, it’s made me not use Uber 2 times in the last two weeks. I log in and it shows there are several cars nearby. I click “request car” and suddenly get an alert –demand is off the charts, will you pay premium. Both times I closed the app and walked or metroed. It is a scheme and I’m signing on to LYFT for another option.

  • You people are incredible. (1) I just opened my app and there’s no surge downtown right now. (2) Uber is not a “scheme” or “scam.” It’s a profit making business – don’t use it if you don’t want to, but you don’t have a right or entitlement to non-surge prices.. (3) Lyft isn’t any better. They may not call it “surge,” but Prime Time is the exact same thing. (4) Have you noticed that it was just winter? Maybe that’s why there’s a surge on?

  • It’s super easy to just not use Uber. The basic forces of economics will solve this.

  • I’m a part-time Uber driver. In January Uber changed the way drivers make money. Instead of just making money on mileage and time, they changed it to hourly rates. Through most of Jan-Feb, there was a lot of surge pricing because of weather, events and shortage of drivers in some areas. The surge pricing areas would flash on and then go off just as quickly. I don’t understand the method behind it, but someone must be at a computer looking at demand + drivers in an area and calls it “surge” and then just turns it on/off. It will probably take a few months to see whether or not drivers make more money and if demand goes up or down. Probably a market adjustment. I can’t speak for other Uber drivers, but I know my way around DC quite well!

  • At 10:00 AM on 2/28 I paid UberX 2.3x to get to IAD, terrible but I had to get there. Roads were clear and there was no weather issue so it was very strange that the serge was in effect. Worst UberX experience so far but still (at 82 bucks) about the same as a cab after tip.

  • I’m glad to see I’m not the only one. It has actually forced me to take cabs! And I HATE DC CABS! There is ALWAYS surge pricing now. F that.

  • Drivers are driving for both Uber and Lyft. Uber lowered rates a couple months back, and Lyft has been doing guaranteed minimum payments. Drivers will do Uber when there’s a high enough surge rate to justify it, otherwise they’re doing Lyft/Sidecar.

  • My GF caught an Uber last week from M and 26th NW to 6th and I street SW, on normal pricing. The driver then took across the bridge into Virginia (She called me nearly crying when she saw she was near Arlington Cemetery because she was worried that she was being kidnapped) I could hear the Driver in the background yelling that he was just following his GPS. How the F do you go to Virginia (and specifically near Arlington cemetery) to get to SW DC? The drive ended up being nearly 45 minutes ( he had to turn around and go back into DC and go through Georgetown) and he charged her $22. Uber rebated her .83 cents for her “trouble”. Something sketchy is going on.

    • I took an Uber recently where my friend had to reach out of the window to unlock the door, since the driver kept the child safety locks on while we were riding. I emailed Uber to say this made me, especially as a woman who was traveling alone for the 2nd half of the ride, very uncomfortable and a bit scared. They just emailed me back and were like “we’ll like the driver know!!”

      I barely use ride share, and will always pick Lyft over Uber if possible. Uber DGAF about you. Heck they probably encourage the drivers to manipulate the market and bring up surge pricing.

  • Yes, I’ve noticed it. Very regular surge pricing when it used to be rare.

    I would rather they just raise prices and establish a fair, regular, predictable rate. That way I can decide when to use it or not.

    As it is, unless it is the rare situation when it is raining or rush hour, when I see surge pricing I just go out and hail a cab. Nine times out of 10 I can do that easily and not give in to the ‘surge’ scheme they have running.

  • Last Sunday night from foggy bottom around 10pm ..I got a surcharge. Friday a week ago at 630am from Dulles to Petworth…no surcharge. Total rude only $44. Yellow cab always charges me $75.

  • I’ve seen surge on the rise in the last few weeks, but I’m not sure if that’s due mostly to the weather. UberX prices have dropped pretty low to the point where Uber has cannibalized my use of metro, especially this last year. A trip from Foggy Bottom to Chinatown is only $3-4 dollars more than metro since the price drop, for me that’s worth it so I’ve certainly been taking WAY more Ubers in the last few months. Many of my friends have also been taking metro less often and switching to Uber.

    If there is a larger surge becomes the norm I’ll likely go back to using the metro and bus more. While I preferred Uber I will use Uber Taxi instead of paying a 1.6+ surge charge.

    I’ve also noticed my app has been functioning oddly in the last month, I had a new layout that then reverted on an old layout and about 2 times I requested and uber and it seemed to just lose the info and show the landing page again. No cancellation text.

  • I live in Dupont and use Uber 2-3 times per week. Over the last 6 weeks Uber has had surge pricing every time I’ve used it. It didn’t make a difference if it was a Tuesday or a Saturday, snow outside or clear skies. The most ridiculous example was last Sunday afternoon, when the weather was perfect and on my app I saw no less than 8 drivers in my immediate vicinity. Yet there was still a 1.4x surge.

  • I had a bad surge pricing experience last week (in Miami) and am wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience. Booked an UberX, waited the 7 minutes for it to arrive, loaded our luggage into the back, and got in. At which point the driver told us he had “accidentally” cancelled the reservation and asked us to re-book. When I went to re-book, surge pricing was in effect. I told the driver it didn’t seem fair to now charge us surge pricing due to the his error, but I wasn’t sure how best to remedy the situation. I suggested waiting a minute to see if it went away, at which point the driver told us we had to get out because he’d booked another customer. I asked if he could cancel that one, because clearly he had the power to, but he refused, and started putting our luggage on the curb. Has anyone else had a driver cancel a pre-existing reservation in order to take advantage of surge pricing?

    • This has happened to my friends and me two different times in DC. The driver was on his way, then when he was just a minute away, he suddenly canceled the trip. Of course there was then a surge (or in one case, a bigger surge than when we first booked), and when we re-booked, the EXACT same guy picked up our ride. Each time, we emailed uber, explained that this is a completely unfair business practice and asked for a refund of the difference, which uber gave as a credit on our account. Even though uber was willing to refund, it still strikes me as very predatory anti-consumer behavior. At the end of the day, all I want is a ride-hailing app and stored payment options. Why that has to come with all the terrible things Uber does, I just can’t understand.

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