UberX Driver Responds to Concerns About Surge Pricing


Disclaimer from OP: The writer has a full-time job and drives UberX part-time on the side. All UberX drivers are independent contractors. As he has no affiliation with the Uber corporation, any impression of positive press for Uber is incidental.

“Dear PoPville,

Recently, the community has expressed well-deserved interest in Uber surge pricing. There are a lot of silly rumors floating about, so I would like to share my perspective as a driver and help shed light on how the system works. Hopefully, everyone would benefit from this knowledge.

1. There is no such thing as driver collaboration.

Drivers do not know each other, nor do we know each others’ whereabouts. There are thousands of drivers and nobody thinks about causing surge pricing because that is nearly impossible for one person. A good analogy is voter turnout. One vote doesn’t matter much, but if turnout drops because voters are apathetic, then history can change. If business is slow, Uber drivers log out rather than waste their time twiddling their thumbs in a car, and if enough drivers get bored and log out, then the supply may become low enough that surge pricing occurs during the next demand spike.

2. Pricing is determined via territories.

Attached is a screenshot from the app at 2AM on New Year’s Eve. The territories are quite large and pricing is calculated based on aggregate demand and supply across the territory. For instance, Foggy Bottom and Shaw are in the same territory, and East Potomac Park and H Street NE are in the same territory. It is perfectly possible for surge pricing to exist while your block has abundant drivers – for instance, a huge demand spike at Nats Park would surge the territory while you sit at home in Trinidad wondering why Uber is trying to rip you off.

3. Pricing is determined automatically.

Except in extraordinary circumstances (such as snow emergencies, where the price is limited to 2.9x), surge pricing is determined fluidly and automatically by supply and demand. There is no Bond villain sitting at a terminal pushing buttons to rip people off. My best guess is that recent increases in surge pricing result from lower base fares combined with increased popularity. Bad weather and congestion (due to rush hour or special events) both cause surge pricing, the former due to increased demand and the latter due to diminished supply from drivers being tied up in traffic. FWIW, on New Year’s Eve many people were able to obtain surge-free rides because the system administrators manually eliminated surge pricing several times through the night. There were not enough drivers to meet demand, so this could only be done in short spurts.

In short, the Uber pricing model is quite simple in how it works. There are legitimate complaints against either the company or individual drivers, but I can assure you that the vast majority of hearsay about pricing is demonstrably false.”

96 Comment

  • This doesn’t explain the common phenomenon I experience which is when I check Uber over the course of 45 minutes, surge pricing is in effect, and there are always about 6+ drivers within a few blocks of me the entire time. If demand was truly outpacing supply, you should have a shortage of drivers. I understand that raising the price through surge will lower demand at that price point and so more drivers will show up for some brief period of time, but if there are drivers still driving around without fares for 45 minutes at a time, then your surge pricing is too high.

    • Ally

      Is it possible that the drivers show up but could have customers already? I’m not sure how that part of the app works — if they always show up while on duty, customers or not.

      • No, only available drivers show up. At least as far as I’m aware. You can see them disappear when they pick up a fare.

        • Yes, only available drivers show up in DC.

          In newer markets like Houston, “fake” drivers will surround your pin so that the service looks busier than it is (the estimated time isn’t fake), but in established markets like DC, driver icons are exactly where they are.

    • If the surge pricing is such a problem there’s an easy solution to avoid it. Just delete the Uber app. You’ll find that you actually are not forced to accept their prices and can return to hailing clean, convenient DC cabs instead.

      • “clean, convenient DC cabs”

        That made me actually LOL.

      • I would wager 10 internet points that you work for uber

        • You would lose 10 internet points. I’m someone who was poorly served by the cab system due to where I live and I’m thrilled that Uber exists. And, I’m a businessperson who is baffled about the idea that clearly-communicated price changes at peak hours are somehow evil.

          Many electric utilities do the same thing – electricity is cheaper in off hours than during peak periods. The idea is to use the rules of economics to help manage supply and demand. It’s fundamentally a great idea – instead of waiting longer, they adjust price so you pay more but get the typical level of service. econ 101.

    • Actually, I’m pretty sure #2 is devoted to explaining explicitly this phenomenon.

      • I had trouble getting beyond the idea of hanging out in East Potomac Park at 2AM on NYE ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Except #2 is nonsense. That is why the Uber Surge predictor app is so popular.

        • Really, you wouldn’t like it if someone called your knowledge of your own occupation nonsense. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          Surge Protector is useful for people who live, work, or play near a territorial boundary. People in Foggy Bottom can go to Georgetown. People in AdMo can go to Woodley Park. People on U Street can go to S Street. So on and so forth. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • If the surge pricing is based on territories, and, as explained that an event taking place at Nationals Stadium can impact Trinidad, due to “territories”, what is Uber doing to redefine their territories so that they provide more stability during fluctuations in geographic locations that are further away?

    Additionally, what is Uber doing to curtail drivers who cancel confirmed rides (prior to showing up) only to have surge pricing go into effect a minute later?

    You show the image of what Uber surge pricing looked at on NYE in DC. I was at a party, my friend ordered an Uber and had no surge pricing (none at all – absolute zero). I ordered my Uber one minute later from the exact same location and had surge pricing at 6X. How is this possible given the explanations that you provided above about “no Bond Villian” and that Uber is based on supply?

    • Did you read it? He explained nye. The admin took away surges in short bursts during nye.

      • So there WAS a “Bond Villian” pushing buttons on NYE. Way to go Uber!

        • Villains don’t normally help you, but sure.

          • Did Darth Vader not throw Emperor Palpatine into the chasm to save Luke’s life? Or are you going to attempt to say that Darth Vader is not a villain?

          • He’s lawful evil, so yea it makes sense. That’s why I said normally as opposed to never.

          • Well the same faulty generalization statement regarding villains not normally helping can be applied to Uber:

            Uber claims that surge pricing is fluid and automatic. But on NYE they influence it by reducing the surge. If the surge is fluid and automatic, it should not have been adjusted manually. So which one is it? Does Uber influence surge pricing or do they not? (if a spokesperson for Uber would like to respond, that would be, well…uber…I guess).

  • The voting analogy doesn’t really help. In an election, one person’s vote is extremely unlikely to determine the outcome, but enough people get the same idea and someone ends up getting elected. It’s not necessarily in any one particular person’s best interest individually to vote, but psychology is such that people still do. Similarly, even though it is not in an individual driver’s best interest to turn his phone off, if he is operating the same way as a voter does (psychologically), he will do it.

    • False. It’s actually not in a driver’s best interest to turn his phone off and forego earning fares. Him doing so is not enough to cause surge pricing to come into effect; he has to rely on all the other drivers, who face similar incentives to get out there and take his customers. It’s a textbook collective action problem, but in the opposite direction that you describe.

    • I thought it was a good analogy. :p
      The vast majority of Uber drivers are always NOT driving at any given time. They have families, another job, social obligations, the need to sleep, etc. There’s just no reason to artificially log out to (fail to) cause surge pricing. The opposite is actually true. Drivers sometimes log out en route to a territory WITH surge pricing, to avoid getting a ping without surge when they could get one with it. When a bunch of drivers all end up in the surging territory, the surge usually goes away fairly quickly.

  • I predict a surge in comments.

  • If the territories are that large, why does surge pricing change dramatically from block to block (or even on different parts of a block)? Around 7 p.m. on Monday night there was 2.9x surge pricing directly in front of my building, but when I walked to a different part of the same block, no surge pricing at all.

    Also, just because the drivers don’t know each other personally doesn’t mean that they aren’t all turning off their availability and using their private phones to watch for surge pricing to go into effect. Nothing about that requires direct collaboration.

    • Playing around with the Surge Protector app, it does seem to be much more hyper local than suggested by the map above. I assume that Uber doesn’t provide a more detailed surge map to its drivers in order to try to prevent more clustering.

      • Absolutely – I have a lot of trouble believing the territories are this large. I have often found surge pricing on 14th St but Surge tells you to walk just a few blocks to escape it.

        • If you’re along 14th near U, Surge Protector would be telling you to cross S Street in one direction or the other.

      • I can assure you that there is nothing “hyper local” going on. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Because you may be near the edge of a territory. For instance, the border between the “downtown” and “Columbia Heights” territories is along S Street NW.

  • nightborn

    Sounds like Uber needs to refine its use of “territories”. Foggy Bottom and Shaw are the same territory? Seriously?

  • palisades

    This post is a swing and a miss. NYE is the most extreme example possible. Some random UberX driver is clearly in the dark as much as the riders. Like another user said, Uber isn’t going to divulge to a random driver its exact formulas for surges and territories. There is clearly some foul play going on.

    • How is a private business adjusting their pricing “foul play”? I really don’t understand the angst about this, it really makes no sense. No one is required to use uber. You are always told of surge pricing in advance. If you don’t want to accept it, you don’t accept it. What’s foul about that?

      • +1 to you Zartan

      • It’s foul play when they announce that they’re lowering prices across the board, but continue to enact surge pricing even when there’s a surplus of drivers in an area. They’re making their consumers out to be chumps.

        • How so? You are told what you’re going to be charged before you even agree to the ride. I will never understand people complaining about Uber and surge pricing. If it’s too expensive for a ride, don’t use their services.

          • I don’t use Uber, but when they continue to drive taxis and other competition out of business do you really expect people not to complain? Their business model is clear: get consumers to latch onto their service when it’s cheap, then drive up prices as the competition goes bust. Typical techno-libertarian philosophy.

          • John, they won’t put taxis out of business unless they provide a better product overall, and the product includes price. If enough people vote with their feet by not using their service and they will adjust the surge pricing model I’m sure. If people don’t, they’re signalling with their spending choices that they’d rather pay more at peak periods then put up with bullsh!t like we used to have to deal with the cab system – like spending 45 minutes in Dupont Circle on Friday night trying to hail a cab, only to have cab after cab drive by, roll down the window, ask for my destination without unlocking the door, and drive away when they learn where I live. THAT was some serious b.s. I’d much rather pay Uber more money occasionally and put the taxi industry as out of business as I possibly can.

          • John M, I use Uber regularly — about 1-2 x a week. I’ve even use them in other countries because I am happy with their service and pricing. Uber isn’t driving DC taxis out of business; DC taxis are driving themselves out of business. I had not utilized a DC taxi in 2 years before trying Uber because their service had been so awful. In addition to zartan’s other complaints (been there), I was tired of the “broken” credit card machines; adding surcharges to my fare that did not apply to my ride; and the late-night mess that is the Union Station cab line. I’ve mentioned this in POP threads before, but once you’ve had a driver spend your ride talking about how terrible black people are (yeah, I’m black), you stop wanting to use your hard-earned money on their service. Even with the surge, Uber pricing is still equal if not cheaper than taxis for me, and I’m usually travelling roundtrip between SE, NW and Silver Spring.

        • This could make for an interesting (and sizable) class action lawsuit if it can be proven true. I imagine some big law firms are frothing at the bit over the possibility.

        • Driver surplus is an incorrect assumption. If that is true, then most drivers in that territory would not receive pings, which is not the case.

          One example: during morning rush hour, the “downtown” territory may have surge pricing, but you’ll never get a ping after dropping someone off at Farragut Square since a whole bunch of drivers will be there. You’d drive to Dupont or Shaw, where residents live and demand is high enough to trip off the surge.

      • palisades

        So because I’m not required to use a service, I’m not allowed to complain about their scummy business practices?
        While I’m not *required* to use Uber, it is by far the most convenient form of transportation for me, so it definitely is important that I’m not getting screwed over.

        • We all understand. I use Uber to get around quite a lot when not driving myself (I’m a DC resident, unlike most other drivers… keeping tax dollars in the city ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

          The thing is, when and where you want to go is often correlated to when everyone else wants to go somewhere. That’s why people often feel persecuted by surge pricing – they’re not calling Ubers during the majority of the day when it’s not surging. If you need a daily ride from Brentwood during evening rush hour, I promise you’ll never encounter a surge.

          • palisades

            Hey I completely understand why surge pricing is a thing. And I think when it was originally introduced it was perfectly fine. Now, it’s almost impossible to call an uber any time or any location without getting stuck with a surge.

          • I don’t feel persecuted, but frequent surging makes Uber unreliable for me. If i have to go to the Kennedy Center saturday night, I need to be able to be confident in the pricing if I’m going to use Uber. Having a 2x surge in effect when it’s time to leave means I need to make other arrangements, but now it’s the last minute.
            It’s the reason I already won’t use Uber to get to the airport, and as surge pricing becomes more prevalent I’m not using it for other trips too. For people like me, who place a premium on predictability, frequent surge pricing is a dangerous game for Uber to play.

          • ๐Ÿ™‚
            FWIW, a 1.3x surge is equivalent to a regular fare prior to the price cut. In a way, this adds additional flexibility to the market. Uber is much more popular now than in the beginning, but even now most of the city is not surging during most of the day. Weekends are consistently busier than weekdays – people have stuff to do other than going to work, and it shows.

          • JCM, that’s the thing – when you need to go somewhere is usually correlated to when other people need to go somewhere. Other people at the Kennedy Center need rides too. It correlates to the same time people getting out of National Theater, the Verizon Center, etc. If you want a ride from the Kennedy Center at 11am on Monday, you’ll get a cheap one just fine. Most places are not surging most of the time. It’s just that when you need a ride is when other people also have social plans.

            The airport thing can be rough, and I know since I travel often. Early morning surge exists (and sucks) because the Metro isn’t running yet.

      • Hi, consumer protection laws. You can’t lie to your consumers about how you price things.

        • As someone who defends consumer protection actions for a living, you’ve got a tough road. You are told upfront (i) that prices may surge and (ii) what the surge will be before you call a car. There’s no hide the ball. That said, DC (along with California) has one of the most absurdly broad consumer protection law in the country – remember the Pants Man? – so who knows.

      • Exactly, there is no bait and switch going on. If you don’t like it, like others have said, delete the app and move on. But obviously people continue to use it – even with all the complaining of the price.

    • Please define “foul play.” Disliking something doesn’t make it foul play. The exact formula, i.e. what ratio of this or that triggers surge pricing, is of course proprietary, but the actual situation is quite fluid and simple.

      I’m not sure where you live, but the “Columbia Heights” territory stretching from AdMo to Howard is the most frequent and highest surging part of town. I assure you, most of the city does not surge during most of the day.

  • Response to the response:
    1. “There is no such thing as driver collaboration” sounds like your gut feeling based on the fact that Uber doesn’t make it easy for drivers to communicate. In the original thread is a poster who said that his Uber driver told him that they were working in tandem. If Uber were to find out that drivers were working together, what would the consequences be- suspension? termination?
    2. “Attached is a screenshot from the app at 2AM on New Yearโ€™s Eve. The territories are quite large and pricing is calculated based on aggregate demand and supply across the territory.” The complaints that people here have regarding hyper-locality and surge pricing are within the last 30-40 days and Uber’s revised pricing policy didn’t go into effect until a few weeks after New Years. The two prior threads dealt primarily with people who noticed changes over the last 6 weeks so your screencap might be a good comparison to show how it used to be, but may not be accurate for illustrating how it works today.
    3. “Pricing is determined automatically”. By a formula. That Uber sets and can change on a whim. Without any transparency or notice. If Uber suddenly decided to change the formula so that surge pricing was 4x as high with twice as many cars, how would we know?

    • Sorry, but your #3 just makes so sense to me. What entitles you to transparency about why or how companies come up with their prices? Do I wish I had the formula that airlines use to set prices (which often fluctuate)? Do I wish I knew when my favorite store was about to mark down the dress I’ve been eyeing? Yeah, it would be nice. But we don’t get to see all that. We see the price. And Uber is completely transparent about the price before you are charged anything for your ride.

      • palisades

        And we hate how airline pricing is set up and we hate when stores have random sales and then mark up the prices so you don’t even get a discount. The fact that other companies have bad business practices does not make Uber’s business practices any more OK.
        On top of all of this, Uber is more unregulated than cabs and we have no idea what kind of company (or if they’ll exist) in 5 years.

    • Sigh. You have no way of knowing who the drivers around you are. Passengers take you all over town. Even if you have a hundred people’s phone numbers, what would you do? Tell everyone to stop earning money because you said so, when you don’t even know if they’re halfway across town from you?

  • Look man, if I have to ride in a car with a pink mustache which looks like my grandma’s toilet seat cover, I’ll do it! Hope your employer changes their surge charging policy. Clearly customers are not happy about Uberโ€™s sh*tty policy. If you look around America, everything is on “sale” “buy one get one free!” call now! gimmicks. Why? because they work! Uber is doing the opposite; using a “let’s put a low base price and then overcharge peopleโ€ strategy, making us feel like we are being nickel and dimmed. You know what other company uses the strategy of a low base price and additional charges for EVERYTHING? Frontier Airlines. You know who loves Frontier? Freaking no one, because it sucks. Who wants to pay $2 for coffee on board, $25 for carryon bags, or $6 to use the TV screen on a 5 hour flight? No one, and no one likes Uber surge prices. End of rant โ€“ oops wrong Popville blog.

    • I love Frontier. I spent a weekend in Florida in January for $58 round trip. Everything is extra, but it’s called bring a book, drink water, and pack clothes in a backpack.

  • This is *precisely* why we need a massive overhaul of the government-sanctioned taxi industry in DC. Shady businesses, like Uber can’t even be trusted to divulge these details to their own workers (or sorry, “partners” in their parlance), so how can they be trusted to hand over such information to regulators? All the while consumers are left in the dark as this operation consolidates their position in the market. I thought DCTC was smoking something funny when they suggested building an app for DC cabs, but now I’m starting to agree with that position. Open data brings the best results.

  • justinbc

    Thankfully there’s one surefire way to tell a business you don’t approve of their practices: stop giving them money.

  • I’d just like to add that I really appreciate the time the OP took to write a clear and detailed explanation of the other side of the app. I found it really interesting and it brought up some points that never would have occurred to me. Thanks OP!

    • +1. I appreciate that someone took the time to write a well-written, thoughtful explanation of the situation as he or she understands them. Thank you!

    • Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚ No problem, I’m just trying to help. Uber as a corporation is just as much of a mystery to drivers as it is to average citizens, but the pricing is not such a mystery. Trust me – you learn to see the patterns, and there’s always an underlying reason.
      Ivy City surging 4.5X at 3:30AM on a Saturday? Echostage just let out.
      College Park surging 3.2X at 8AM on a Saturday? Greek rushing day.
      High surge all over town at 6AM on a Saturday? Metro ain’t running.
      So on and so forth…

      • But by the logic of the business model, if patterns are that predictable, why wouldn’t more drives adjust their schedules and routines accordingly to take advantage of that? Which goes back to your first point about the inability to coordinated, even tacitly, to push surge pricing. If you can predict demand being high in certain places at certain times, it’s actually EASIER to coordinate with other drivers, not harder. And according to the business model, if high demand periods/places/times are so predictable, you would have more drivers working to service those to make more money and therefore there would be less need for surge pricing.

        Most other businesses staff this way. Choosing not to is simply gouging.

        • you’re missing a key point, which is that Uber doesn’t employ drivers. They can’t “schedule more drivers” to be on at a certain time, because drivers choose to come online and go offline as they wish. The only way Uber has of increasing the supply of drivers is to increase the amount they are getting paid. Hence, surge pricing. It’s quite simple, sensible, and obvious, actually. They offer more money, they get more supply.

          When supply and demand are out of balance, you will either find higher prices or longer wait times. It’s quite literally econ 101.

          • The staffing point was simply to note that in business, you anticipate high demand. Whether Uber is staffing or the drivers are self-selecting when to work, the problem solves itself if peak Uber use is predictable. The idea surge pricing is there to solve this is stupid if that is something predictable as the OP suggests.

            So honestly you are wrong in your understanding of basic economics. Without surge pricing, with predictable high demand periods, drives would make themselves available during peak travel periods to make more money. It also makes little sense that turning on surge and off surge randomly would push more drivers to hit the roads unless drivers know where and when to find surge areas.

          • Duponter, you’re assuming that all drivers have full flexibility and complete information. Most drivers are part time. If they have another job, it will generally be difficult for them to adjust when they drive to meet peak demand.
            And drivers don’t have (or it would be difficult to get) complete information as to when most surges will occur. While some surges, like morning rush hour, may be predictable, most drivers won’t know, for example, concert schedules and exactly when a Nats game is going to get out (or if it will go into extra innings or be boring so people left early). So even if surges are hypothetically predictable, in practice it would be very difficult or even impossible for drivers to know where to be to take advantage of them.

          • jumpingjack, then how does surge pricing work to put more drivers on the road by your logic?

        • Zartan is right. Uber is not our employer, and we do not get told when to drive. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t want to pick people up on U Street at 3AM, even if it’s 3x surge pricing. The price works itself out – it goes high enough for the remaining drivers to be willing to take the risk of vomit and physical harm, but stays low enough for the people who really need a ride to get one (even with a surge, Uber is cheap if you split it amongst several friends).

          • Last week, Uber lost a summary judgment motion in a case challenging its classification of drivers as independent contractors. Your status is up in the air (though I don’t know that it would change this analysis).

      • I’m the person who posted about the Surge Protector app a few days ago. OP, I appreciate the points you laid out, but still have a problem with what’s been going with Uber (and to be clear, my problem is not with the drivers!)

        As a frequent Uber user, I agree with you that surge pricing USED to be predictable – if you were leaving U Street on Halloween, for example, you could expect surge prices, or if you were leaving a Caps game or an inauguration and trying to get an Uber along with a hundred other folks. But the recent uptick in surge pricing has only happened since Uber lowered its prices (well after the New Year’s Eve screenshots you provided), and people are complaining now because surge pricing has been totally unpredictable and seemingly random. I think that’s what people can’t get their heads around — like, Uber is telling us that “demand is off the charts” on a Monday in Cleveland Park at 3 pm? When the app shows a bunch of cars around, and there’s no rush hour or big event letting out and the Metro/buses are all running?

        I don’t think drivers are ~evil and colluding~, but I do think they are turning off their phones to wait for surge pricing to go into effect (and I don’t think one would need to call 100 other Uber drivers to coordinate that — I think it happens pretty organically). And I don’t blame them either. Every Uber driver I’ve chatted with has said they are making significantly less money driving Uber now than they were before.

        I know that, as consumers, we can vote with our feet on this (e.g., not use Uber), and I know Uber is a private company and the way they price their services is proprietary and etc. But the way Uber explains it to the consumer – that “demand is off the charts” and prices are being increased “to get more drivers on the road” – just doesn’t seem to add up, and it’s annoying. I wouldn’t want to stop using Uber and punish the drivers; plus, generally I enjoy using Uber. I just can tell surge pricing has changed and wish I knew why.

        Uber should be addressing this outcry themselves.

        • The “get more drivers out on the road” argument makes even less sense if you believe the OP that busy times/places are predictable. If they are, the drivers would be there already. Alternatively, the drivers are there (which is usually the case when I see surge pricing is in effect and there are several drivers circling around waiting on fares) and Uber is still charging surge pricing because it wouldn’t surprise anyone to think they would need to pay surge during predictable times. If it’s predictable, the solution would arrive without the need for surge pricing. More drivers would operate during peak periods in peak neighborhoods.

          And to the point above, there are laws that dictate how you can market yourself and what you tell your customers. Simply because you know you’re paying surge pricing when you call for a driver doesn’t mean Uber isn’t doing anything shady if they are lying about how and why surge pricing is turned on and off to consumers.

          • Demand can easily outpace supply. Imagine the supply of Uber drivers as a grocery store. If people shop at a regular pace, Safeway doesn’t run out of inventory very often. If there’s a big rush of people buying the same thing, stuff runs out – that is, unless the price automatically increases to balance the supply and demand until more supply becomes available. The end result when there is no surge to regulate demand is ugly – all cars get snapped up and nobody can get a ride at ANY price. That actually happened when they did the brief no-surge periods on NYE.

          • But OP, by Uber’s own logic, the point of surge pricing is not to reduce demand but to increase supply (of drivers). And by your analogy, the grocery store model doesn’t work unless the grocery store can raise the price while still providing more of the goods that are in high demand.

            My issue is with Uber’s ridiculous claim that surge pricing puts more drivers on the road. It makes no sense if it is not predictable and they are not in charge of staffing. The only way it works is if high demand is predictable, so drivers can plan accordingly to work during high surge times/places. And if that is true, surge pricing is not needed because if demand is predictable, drivers would be doing that anyway to take advantage of it so they aren’t working when demand is low.

        • I agree – drivers do sometimes opt out of driving when there is no surge, especially if traffic is heavy. What we get paid for the time (rather than distance) is a pittance. It’s also not anything I’d call a coordinated behavior. It’s entirely possible for there to be surge pricing at 3PM on Monday – what if few drivers are around in the first place (3PM on Monday is one of the slowest daytime hours of the week) and there’s commotion at AU? Unusual, but entirely possible.

          Uber says surge pricing is to get drivers out on the road but there’s no way for them to coordinate that. Drivers tend to expect surge pricing at certain places and times and prefer to work those hours, or they happen to log in and see a big surge and opt to drive for a little bit.

  • The great thing is even with some surge pricing, the prices have dropped so much on Uber, it is still worth it in some cases to take Uber over a taxi. That said, I also think that is precisely their thought process in the entire pricing model.

    And do not get me started on the safe drive fee. Ugh. I find it disgusting that Uber chooses to fight in court to claim that the drivers are not employees, but independent contractors, and so they cannot be held liable when a driver harms a passenger, while also charging that same passenger for some level of guaranteed safety. You cannot have it both ways.

    • Every taxi company in the country operates this way. Barwood, Red Top, Black Pearl, whatever. All independent contractors, because they can choose to work or not work at will and are not on a specific required schedule, which is the definition of being an independent contractor.

      • I am not confused about the fact they are independent contractors. That wasn’t the problem here. The issue is the safe ride fee Uber pockets. There is some representation there that they are responsible for and are guaranteeing some level of safety. All those companies you mention are not adding $1 to my fare to ensure my safety. Most businesses don’t even though most also take efforts to ensure consumer safety.

        My point is it is total BS. Build it into the pricing structure and stop insulting us by pretending you’re guaranteeing anything while actively defending in litigation your position that you are not responsible for safety.

    • We have commercial liability insurance (up to $1M) while a ride is active. That’s what the safe ride fee goes toward.

  • Its gotten to the point where every time I open the Uber app I fully expect to see surge pricing.

    • maxwell smart

      I have noticed the same – like how is there Surge Pricing at 4am on a Monday and there are several cars on the map? And even at a 2.5x surge, it’s actually the same as what UberX initially cost before they lowered fares I don’t know how many times, so in reality the surge isn’t anymore then what I used to pay, but I see the 2.5x and I immediately think “Oh man, this is going to be expensive.” It’s a weird business tactic but it still beats DC cabs.

  • Question for OP. Could a driver see that surge pricing has kicked in while his or her way to a customer and cancel the current pickup (to get a new one at surge pricing)?

    Had a driver on his way for 8 minutes, booked with no surge pricing, and when he was a block away there was a message saying the trip got cancled (not sure about exact notification text). Had to book a new driver and surprise! It was surge pricing.

    • This happened to me on Saturday afternoon at Union Station. Had a car booked at the normal fares, car was en route for 5 minutes. The trip was canceled when he was 2 blocks away, had to rebook with another driver @ 1.3x Surge. My guess is that they are monitoring the Surge with their personal phone.

  • I have also noticed now that there is UberXL that if UberX is on surge, the app default is to order an UberXL car that is not on surge pricing. The issue with that is you do not get a warning like you on surge that says, you’re about to order an UberXL (at a higher price than UberX) and unless you notice that the dial is switched to UberXL, you may not realize it. This happened to me the other night and what I thought was going to be like a $7 ride was $13.

    Speaking of which, 9:30pm on a Tuesday in Dupont last night. Surge pricing on UberX. Ridiculous. I took a cab home instead.

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