New Yorkers Have No Love for New Year's Eve Revelers 'Surged' by Uber

Uber charged some steep fares last night; company reps say the hikes keep drivers on the road.
Uber charged some steep fares last night; company reps say the hikes keep drivers on the road.
Courtesy of Uber's press kit

Revelry, mistakes, getting drunk and doing things we'll later regret: They're all New Year's Eve traditions.

And for partygoers across the world this year, one of those mistakes was getting in an Uber.

Thanks #uber for price gouging because it's freakin new years eve. Never using you again.

A photo posted by Brandon Starcher (@b_steezy88) on

Uber uses a scheme called "surge pricing," where, thanks to a computer algorithm, fares go up during times of high demand -- like holidays, for example, or during an Australian terrorist attack. The company defends this practice as a method for incentivizing more of its drivers to hit the road during high-demand times. But Uber's also been criticized for the surges, particularly after a freelance writer had to crowd-fund her $362 fare after she got in a car after Halloween.

On New Year's Eve, just as expected, the surge took effect. And some in the city were a little unimpressed:

But other New Yorkers had no patience for the whining. In fact, many of the complaints from tweets geotagged near Manhattan weren't about Uber — but about people complaining about Uber.

One Uber customer we talked to was initially "furious" when his driver canceled on him — only minutes before a big price surge went into effect, he says. "I called a car around 2:15 a.m. I booked the trip, the driver started going in the wrong direction...I called him and he didn't pick up," said John P., who asked the Voice not to use his last name because he promotes Uber through his job in the hospitality industry.

When he tried to book another ride, the surge was at more than three times the service's normal rate. But after an angry message, Uber responded promptly and offered him $30 for his next ride, so John says he's "kind of over it."

"I like that they were super-quick," he says. "They were very professional."

There's a couple reasons this city could be taking the Uber surge so calmly. The first? People in New York just have more choices, explains John West, a Ph.D. student at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation who studies congestion pricing — policies that use price hikes during periods of high demand to change the landscape by either reducing demand or, in Uber's case, increasing supply.

"We have a robust public system and a highly regulated taxi system," West says. That means that pricey Uber cars during peak times are a luxury item here for people who won't wait for a cab. "In smaller markets, without many other transit options, [the surge] is problematic."

Uber also warned customers in advance to expect surge pricing. That PR move may have given people online less patience for angry customers. On December 30, Uber announced that it expected New Year's Eve to be its busiest night ever, "with a projected 2,000,000 rides in 24 hours." A blog post even suggested pricing would peak between 12:30 and 2:30 a.m. The post recommended riders avoid those times or use the app's fare-splitting tool to share the cost with friends.

Uber also reminded New Yorkers about the app's new carpooling feature, UberPOOL, which lets you "share your ride with another rider along the same route to save up to 50%."

Reps from competing taxi app Lyft sent out a similar announcement, but they also promised that surge pricing would be limited to four times the normal rate.

No matter how many reminders they get, people who party will inevitably make mistakes. But if you avoid following in the footsteps of the guy in Pennsylvania who demanded Uber "EXPLAIN" how he accepted a $100 ride, you'll probably avoid social-media wrath.

We asked Uber just how high the surge got and how many people rode in Ubers last night. If they comment, we'll add those details here.

Send news tips to ktoth@villagevoice.com Follow @kat_toth on Twitter


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >