Can saying “no” lead to better Uber rates?
Let me be the first to admit – I’m lazy. After an evening event I am easily tempted to open the Uber app and tap my way home, rather than take the subway to the train and walk 15 minutes. Every once in a while I give in and book a ride home. But in recent months despite opening the app “just to check” I’ve largely abstained from actually booking. And thus yesterday, I opened the app to find a fare lower than I’d ever seen. This reminded me of a rumor that Uber has developed tech solutions to offer adaptive rates based on a variety of factors. This lead me to further ponder, can you really get a lower rate by gaming the Uber app?
Last May, Uber announced development of route based pricing. In theory, the company is using smart learning technology to constantly gauge what people are willing to pay for a certain route. This sounds good in practice, but there’s a popular theory it’s been used to overcharge frequent customers who may be profiled as affluent, or those traveling between ritz neighborhoods. On the other hand – I can’t help but think that every time I open the app, input the route and opt out of a fare – this is also being factored into future calculations and perhaps, helping to lower rates. What will it take to “win” this customer is the thought that comes to mind. How could my 20 failed ride quotes Uber has offered not be making an impact on future pricing? But then the question remains: if I am indeed impacting prices, is it just my price?
The route which lead me to the conclusion that gaming is possible is in London. The same route has been quoted at £50 ($75) one way for many months, yet when I fired up the app the previous evening, it was £35. I took that offer. In pondering how this new low fare was spit out, I couldn’t help but consider the aforementioned “opting out” I had done on so many occasions. Close, but no cigar, Uber. If machine learning is being used, surely the tech is seeing that I was requesting a ride from a hotel with extreme proximity to mass transit. In fact, Kings Cross station is just across the street. Does Uber’s pricing system potentially considering that only a knock out offer would tempt me from walking across the street and catching the train? This is something I believe could be easily translated all around the world.
Even The Score
It’s a known fact, and unfortunately one I’ve dealt with first hand that many Uber drivers game the app and create artificial price surges to achieve higher rates. Fair enough, that’s their somewhat morally misguided prerogative. But, if that’s how they want to play it, I sincerely suggest that all customers fire up their Uber app with increased regularity, price out a random trip and then opt not to book it. If Uber is truly “gauging” what customers will pay for a given ride, each data point pointing to lower prices works in our favor. Of course I can’t prove that my persistent “no” lead to an extraordinarily low offer and a “yes”, but I’d struggle to believe it hurt the odds.