City Desk

Warning: There Will Be Uber Price Surges on New Year’s Eve


The always-controversial Uber came under extra heavy fire last week when New York City customers complained of exorbitant price surges during a snowstorm, with fares jumping to seven times their normal amount.

But the customers weren't getting any sympathy from the libertarian disrupters over at Uber. After all, this is the core of the Uber business model: When demand for a ride goes up, the price goes up, which will hopefully encourages more drivers to get on the road.

D.C. may have been spared a snowstorm-pricing debacle, but riders can expect to seem some price surges on New Year's Eve, one of the biggest nights for driving services.

Nairi Hourdajian, Uber's head of global communications, won't predict what the price surge could be on Dec. 31, but says that prices on Dec. 31, 2012, were, on average, double the normal fare. Rider data from last year shows that the most difficult times of the night to get a car—in other words, the most expensive—were between 8:30 and 9:45 p.m. and between 12:30 a.m. and 2:45 a.m. The easiest times were before 7 p.m. and after 3 a.m.

UberX, which is advertised as being 18 percent cheaper than a cab at its base price, will also be subject to the price surge.

Hourdajian notes that customers are notified of the increased prices three times on their phone before they confirm the ride. If they don't want to pay the price, they can cancel the order request and try again. "I think what's most important is this pricing changes really quickly," Hourdajian says. "If they see surge pricing is occurring, then they should check again in just a few minutes."

For those who want to go old-school this New Year's Eve and take their chances at hailing a taxi on the street, D.C. cabs, which are regulated by the city government and are only allowed to hike their fares during a snow emergency, will offer their normal rates.

Image courtesy Uber

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  • Jane

    Now that (theoretically) all cabs have credit card readers there's essentially no point in using Uber. It's not too hard to find cabs around town.

    We were smart enough to book this year's NYE plans within walking distance. Last year I made the mistake of getting a hotel room and wasted a couple hundred dollars.

  • John

    With Uber don't need to carry anything in your pockets its all electronic. However Uber is a luxury. Most of the time cabs are easy, but Uber provides the luxury of a personal driver in a black car to come and pick you up, open the doors for you, and take you where ever you like. ;)

  • Chris

    Jane, while there may be plenty of cabs in DC, successfully hailing one, depends on the neighborhood in which you live. Uber has been filling this gap for those that the DC Taxi Commission has long ignored.

  • Dirk

    Another alternate are car services like Lyft and Sidecar. They're similar to UberX but don't do surge pricing.

  • Dave Sutton

    This is a good article. Still, there will be DC Uber customers price-gauged and outraged by their taxi bill come New Year’s Eve. Probably, one or two of them will go on Twitter to say: never again.

    Here’s how Uber’s surge pricing (price gauging) played out a couple weeks ago during the recent snowfall. Uber passengers in New York City got charged 7 (seven) times the normal amount. They also had to pay a $175 minimum. This means Uber customers could be charged $175 for a ride that lasted only a mile or two. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld's wife, Jessica, was charged $415 for her Uber ride. Rich as they are, she was livid.

    In response to an outpouring of customer complaints, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick got on Facebook to publicly ridicule a woman who complained about her excessive fare. Hey, maybe some unlucky Washingtonian will get price-gauged on New Year’s Eve and then famously ridiculed by Kalanick on Jan. 2.

    Then, a few more Uber customers will say: never again.

  • Tim

    Taxis don't do surge pricing. Of course, it might be impossible to hail one shortly after midnight. So use an app to do so. Uber, of course, can hail a taxi for you (and although Uber surges, it can't apply surge pricing to the taxis, because they're subject to the normal regulated pricing). Hailo is another option.