I read about a new Uber workaround app today called SurgeProtector on the Will Run for Miles blog. The idea behind the app is to help users deceive the Uber app during surge pricing by dropping the location pin (that requests a car) in a wrong location conveniently located outside the surge zone. Presumably riders would then contact their Uber driver and request that they pick them up in the correct location IN the surge zone.
The deception would creatively allow users to avoid the surge price while still utilizing a driver who would only be paid the standard fare price. I think this application is horrible and essentially a conduit to committing fraud.
Here is why I will be cancelling rides from passengers I suspect are using the app.
In Dallas/Fort Worth where I live (and drive), our zones are fairly large. The smaller zones are strategically drawn… in Fort Worth, for example, there is a zone for the university, a zone for downtown, and a zone for a popular entertainment district. As well there are geographically larger western and eastern zones.
I live at the apex of the western, university, and nightlife zones. Often when these zones surge, its due to specific events – closing time at the bars, the end of a college football game, a torrential downpour – and driving in these surges is often a wash because the time spent in traffic and corresponding gasoline burned is higher. I often look to surge pricing as “hazard pay”. Typically when it’s surging, it’s a higher risk time – whether the risk of being in a wreck in the middle of a downpour or the risk of a rider vomiting in my car due to it being 2:30 am.
Let’s take the case of a post-game reveler wanting a cheaper ride who uses SurgeProtector to request a ride during a surge (let’s call it a 3.0 multiplier just for even numbers). The app allows them to default to the nearest location away from the surge which in this case, would be an address about two minutes away from where I live (and normally originate my Uber rides from). I get the ride and drive to their location. In typical intoxicated rider fashion, it takes them two minutes to figure out how to call me – or better yet, they text with their correct location. By then, I’m already at the false location ready to start the ride.
But it turns out they are at the stadium which on a good day is ten minutes away – and probably twenty with traffic. I’m now driving that distance to pick up a ride where the rider is now angry that it has taken me that long to arrive – and possibly has cancelled the ride choosing instead to hail a cab or jump in a car with friends. Or worse, they have started walking and so when I arrive at the amended location, they are now four blocks away requiring another drive swimming upstream to reach them.
Then they jump in my car and go two miles in ten minutes, netting a fare of $5 – a fraction of the $15 they would have originally been charged. And of that $5, after I pay my $1 safe rides fee to Uber and their 20% cut, I’ve been left with $3.20. And the rider, in the meantime, is upset that there was a surge to begin with and angry that it took me 20 minutes to get there (since I was the closest driver to the fraudulent pin, not the closest driver to their actual location) so they rate me 1 star. My rating takes a hit which puts me at risk for deactivation.
Meanwhile, my fellow drivers who are sitting next to the surge are getting no rides, punishment for being in the correct place at the correct time.
Further, this app if widely used runs the risk of creating false surges. Surge pricing is based on the number of users in a location with the Uber app open versus the number of drivers available. If the rider number is higher than the driver availability, a surge will occur. Experienced rivers who have access to the zone maps and surge locations will frequently notice that as one surge disappears, an adjacent surge will often pop up as drivers float from one zone to the next as they try to chase the surge. Artificial surges will do nothing but push the geography further from the user’s actual location and will place the driver further away.
So no, I will not be using this technology. And when I’m driving, I will have no problem cancelling rides for users who do.
Is use of an app like Surge Protector committing fraud?
- Yes (73%, 38 Votes)
- It's an ethical grey area (12%, 6 Votes)
- No (10%, 5 Votes)
Total Voters: 52