The Agony and Ecstasy of Surge Pricing

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A word to the wise partygoer: if you’re standing in front of The Abbey at quarter to two in the morning with your phone out, waiting for an Uber home, you do not have a strong hand to play. It’s a tough get on an average Saturday night.  On New Years Eve?  Well, as they back East,  fughetaboutit…

The delicate mechanics of rider and car finding each other at the corner of Santa Monica and Robertson can be challenging.  This is where, at a certain point the evening, the normal order of cars-on-the-street, pedestrians-on-the-sidewalk gives to way to a state of nature.  All pretense of traffic signals, loading zones, crosswalks and waiting ones turn is in the wind.

The conversation runs something like:  “We’re across the street from the fire truck. See us?”

Beyond the sea of faces jaywalking past my windshield, in the middle distance, I can make out the blinking orange lights of a fire truck. Anything beyond that might as well be in Orange County.

“Just pull in behind the fire truck. We’ll find you.”

“I’m not turning onto Robertson. We’ll never get out of there. Meet me at the corner.”

The Corner: Dozens of cell phones twinkling,  each surrounded by a cluster of hopeful riders.  Some are utilizing the flashlight function, as though waving a bright light into the windshield of an approaching Uber will expedite matters.  It doesn’t.

No sooner do I pull to the curb than the door is yanked open and a theatrical couple take possession of the back seat.

“Oh thank God you’re here.  We’ve been waiting for-ever.”

I ask for the name on the account. Of course it doesn’t correspond to my rider.  Regrettably, I’m here for someone else, I explain.

“But we’ve been waiting so loooong…”

After several long minutes in front of Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant, fending off pirate boarders, the correct riders find me.

Four people, one passed out drunk next to me in the shotgun seat, another passed out in the back.  Lucky Couple Number Two rounding third base necking, all the way home.  I didn’t mind. Getting people safely where they want to be in whatever state they are in at the moment, is at the core of Uber service.

When we reached Calabasas it was 31 degrees. Nobody could find the keys to the house.  Make Out Girl was hopping about in bare feet, holding her heels in one hand, and patting down pockets of her slumbering friends. Eventually the keys were located and Make Out Guy fireman-carried the slumberers across the threshold. My evening was done.

Three hundred and twenty bucks. That’s one hell of a hangover.

3 thoughts on “The Agony and Ecstasy of Surge Pricing”

  1. As an Uber driver I’m really curious about your take on driverless cars.

    Everyone seems to think they will transform “transportation as we know it.” People in the urban core will be able to give up their personal cars in favor of shared cars that come whenever they beckon. The elderly can age in place in Suburbia since their cars will drive themselves long after cataracts and set in. People in distant suburbs will be able to live even farther away from civilization with even longer commutes because they can nap or do productive work while the car drives itself. Traffic congestion and lack of parking will be a thing of the past as computer algorithms optimize everything. Uber will be even cheaper since human drivers will be eliminated.

    Personally, I think this will be true in some cases. But as always one set of solutions will create a new set of problems. Highly optimized hyper efficient systems are brittle and don’t (can’t) respond well to out-of-the-ordinary situations.

    Your thoughts?

    1. “Highly optimized hyper efficient systems are brittle and don’t (can’t) respond well to out-of-the-ordinary situations.”
      There’s a whole lot of Michael Crichton lurking in that sentence, Johnny. That’s the set-up for any number of dystopian scenarios.
      On a personal level, it feels so far off, technically, at this point, I haven’t thought through the real world implications.
      Assuming the technical issues are overcome, the network would by necessity so highly regulated as to render private car ownership moot. How else will remote controlled shuttle cars with sleeping ‘drivers’ be able to share the lane with Soccer Mom in her mini vans? That would give the government a whole lot of control over where and how people live. The possibilities for social engineering schemes would be broad and deep.

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