Surge Hacking

Uber, Lyft drivers causing artificial price surges:

Every night, several times a night, Uber and Lyft drivers at Reagan National Airport simultaneously turn off their ride share apps for a minute or two to trick the app into thinking there are no drivers available -- creating a price surge. When the fare goes high enough, the drivers turn their apps back on and lock into the higher fare. [...]

"Uber doesn't pay us enough, what the company is doing is defrauding all these people by taking 35-40 percent," one driver told ABC 7. "They are taking all this money because there's no system of accountability," another unidentified driver said. [...]

"All the airplanes we know when they land. So five minutes before, we turn all our apps off all of us at the same time. All of us we turn our apps off. They surge, $10, $12, sometimes $19. Then we turn our app on. Everyone will get the surge," one driver says. [...]

"Does everyone do it?" "Yes 100 percent. Everyone knows it's not worth it. They know if they take a ride from here without surge, without pumping the surge up, it's not worth it."

This is hilarious, but I can't decide whether to root for the drivers here. Is this effective "collective bargaining"? Or is it just more grift that does little more than prop up Uber's and Lyft's profits? Grift on top of grift. Grift all the way down.

Previously, previously, previously.

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10 Responses:

  1. Dan says:

    As they would say in the MMO world, this is a "clever use of game mechanics" and not an exploit.

  2. Eric says:

    A Lyft driver once explained to me there's a bonus for completing a "streak" of certain number of rides in a row, but in order to earn it he can't turn off the app (and switch to the Uber driver app, for example.) So I'd assume this surge pricing hack would mean there's no way to earn the streak bonus.

  3. MattyJ says:

    Uber/Lyft still get their cut of the surge pricing, no? They probably don't care, then. At some point they'll probably AI that shit so driver's won't have to bother turning off their apps.

    Also not sure we're able to use the word 'profit' in the same breath as Uber or Lyft ...

    • jwz says:

      Yeah, exactly. This just means that the customers might be surprised that it's magically always surge o'clock. They get to raise the price without raising the price. "Itchy and Scratchy money not accepted here".

      • MattyJ says:

        Countdown to Uber ICO (Uber Funbucks) in 5... 4... 3...

        They should get some synergy with Ebay and auction rides off to the highest bidder. Then it's the customers that are raising prices, not them.

  4. ToeMac says:

    I haven't flown into DCA for awhile but a surge of even $10 would make me just take one of the hundred cabs that line up in the place. Or have Uber/Lyft dried them up? (I doubt it but ...)

    • Joe Luser says:

      While typing this reply, I was thrilled to learn that DC has finally abandoned their old "zone pricing" cab fare model which allowed cab drivers to rip you off by dropping you at one end of the block rather than the other. Which at least had the benefit of directly benefitting the driver. And which could not have ever changed as long as Marion Berry was alive.

      There's a metro station right there. Take the train to somewhere that's not undergoing a "surge".

  5. Captain Obvious says:

    Public service announcement: as you exit the Reagan National terminal, you will notice hordes of people lined up waiting for their Uber/Lyft at the outermost curb line. Before that, you will note the taxi rank full of cabs waiting for you to hop into, drive off into DC or environs, and probably arrive at your destination before an Uber driver can locate their intended mark, er, customer, amongst the teeming masses all staring at their phones and cursing the gridlock. All at a standardized, non-surge-y price.

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