"Get on the Surge Bus": Video Appears to Teach Uber Drivers How to Manipulate Prices - NBC Southern California

"Get on the Surge Bus": Video Appears to Teach Uber Drivers How to Manipulate Prices

The video shows how repeatedly cancelling planned pick-ups causes fees to increase.



    Driving for an Uber Price Surge? Video Raises Questions

    An online video is raising questions about whether Uber drivers can jack up prices right before picking up a customer. It's part of what some are calling driving for a surge. Gadi Schwartz reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Monday, May 18, 2015. (Published Tuesday, May 19, 2015)

    Uber users are worried about drivers manipulating prices after an online video emerged that claims to teach a method that tricks the system into jacking up fares.

    The video, apparently created by a Los Angeles driver and titled "Driving for Surge," was uploaded onto YouTube and shared on an Uber driver online forum. It shows how repeatedly canceling planned pickups causes fees to increase.

    On the online forum the poster said, "It would be nice if we all got on the surge bus and rode to profits together. Here's a little how to, please follow and share."

    Rider Liz Price is unhappy some may be "cheating the system," especially as she has seen drivers cancel for seemingly no reason as they have been heading to pick her up in the past. 

    "It'll show that the car is actually moving on the screen, but it just stops and then it'll go back to the main screen," Price said.

    Uber uses a computerized algorithm to quickly increase prices in response to changes of supply and demand in the market. 

    In theory it should attract more drivers during times of increased demand, while also reducing demand. Customers are notified when making a reservation if prices have gone up.

    Honest drivers are also unhappy unscrupulous people could damage the reputation of the system as a whole.

    "I'm not going to do it if I'm going to be cheating people — that's just not fair," operator Dan Bertsch said.

    He was especially displeased as he tries to take every rider he can when he is using the system.

    "I'm so excited to get a fare that I just accept every single one," Bertsch said.

    The company itself insists there are safeguards in place to protect customers from profiteers, though it would not comment on how the individual who uploaded the video would be dealt with.

    “Consistently canceling rides in an effort to manipulate the app or discriminate against riders is in violation of the contract that driver partners sign," Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson said. "Driver partners who do this may be deactivated from the system."

    Uber applied for a U.S. patent on surge pricing in 2013. The practice was criticized last year when it raised prices in Sydney as people were trying to leave the area during a hostage crisis.

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