by Sam Spence
If you plan on walking out of your bar o' choice and hopping in a taxi or an Uber this New Year's, think again. The mad rush for a ride home after the ball drops on Wednesday night means cabs will be in short supply and it's almost guaranteed that UberX's "surge pricing" will kick in once all of you try to log on.
Back on Halloween, local media lit up with reports that one Uber rider who was "shocked" and "surprised" that she was hit with a $360 bill to drive her to West Ashley from downtown. The high bill, Uber said, was in line with Uber's policy of automatically increasing rates along with demand. The company says the policy is in place as an incentive for drivers to sign-on and as a way to make sure rides are available for those who need them at any cost.
It's important to know that it's hard to get burned by surge pricing without knowing it. When the increased rates are in place at more than two times the normal cost, riders are warned in the Uber app with a scary-looking warning screen and are required to agree with and confirm the rate by typing in the going-rate at that time. Tip: If you want to see what your ride will cost before you request an Uber, tap "Set Pickup Location" (don't worry, nothing's requested yet), then select "Fare Estimate." Check out the Uber PR video below for more.
You can always hitch a ride on NYE just as you would normally with your favorite cab company, but you won't be the only one. We suggest planning ahead to ensure your chariot will be waiting when you're ready to make your exit. Police will also be on high alert for drunk drivers on the roads this week as they continue their annual 'Sober or Slammer' crackdown.
Surge pricing has earned Uber some unfavorable press recently after the rate hikes were encountered during emergency situations. Regulators in New York brokered an agreement with the company over the summer to cap surge costs during "abnormal disruptions of the market." Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, a well-known free-marketer, has long-defended the policy, telling a customer in an email in 2013, "The point is in order to provide you with a reliable ride, prices need to go up."
In a blog post on Tuesday, Uber posted a chart showing when it predicts demand will increase tonight. Fares will see a slight bump in the early evening as people finish dinner and/or head out on the town, and then dramatically increase around closing time. Your best bet, Uber says, is to "request right when the ball drops or wait until later for prices to return to normal."