Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Taking an Uber on New Year's? Here's What You Need to Know About Surge Pricing

Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2015 at 6:01 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/JASON DEVAUN

So you spent last New Year's Eve waiting for a cab that never came. We've all been there in this town ... and more than a few of us have used it as an excuse to drive drunk. Not cool. Not ever cool.

But this year, you're not going to have that problem — ever since Uber entered the market this summer, defying regulators, they've delivered a genuinely speedy option to get you home when you've been drinking. With just a few clicks of your smartphone, you've got a ride in minutes. 

The only catch is that it's going to cost you. And when we're talking about New Year's Eve, it's really going to cost you. 



That's because of a nifty little thing called surge pricing. Unlike cab companies, Uber doesn't charge a fixed rate set by regulators. It sets its own prices — and, in times when demand exceeds the number of drivers on the road, it raises the price to encourage more drivers to get out there and take on passengers.

The drivers don't get to decide what they charge — Uber uses an algorithm that multiplies the usual rates by a number that's revealed up front when you order a ride — it might be two, three, even five times what you're used to paying. And they'll make sure you agree to that surge price before they send the car, with a special preview screen on your phone that shows you just how bad it's going to be by mile and what that means for you, if you enter your destination on the front end.

If the variable is two or more, they'll even make you punch the number they've provided into your phone. Think of it as a field sobriety test, only tailored to passengers like you — you've got to show you're sober enough to know what you're getting into.




Even with that, complaints about surge pricing have abounded. Charging $357 for a ride across L.A.? It happenedSlapping New Yorkers with surge pricing during a snowstorm? Hey, how else to get drivers out in that weather? Using surge pricing during the Sydney hostage crisis? Not a good move, PR-wise — but there you have it.

That said, if you don't want to foot the bill for a surge, you've got a few options. When surge pricing is in effect, Uber lets you decline an immediate pick-up and wait to be notified once the surge is over. Or you can plan your night so you aren't seeking a ride during the busiest parts of the evening — Uber recommends leaving before 12:30 a.m. or after 2:30 a.m. Since this city has the finest assortment of 3 a.m. bars in the land, you have no excuse for needing a ride home right at 1 a.m.

That's not your only way around the surge: NPR recommends walking a few blocks away and seeing if that makes a difference. And hey! You can also call a cab. We hear those drivers have even been fingerprinted and drug tested. Just let us know if one ever shows up.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com

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