Uber charges the Marina and Pacific Heights districts up to three times as much for a ride as the rest of the city in its new “neighborhood surge” program, according to leaked emails and screen captures.
The surges happen during rush hour, weekend night bar crawls, and also around concerts and other events that would draw riders to Uber’s app.
Uber has caught a lot of flak for its New Year’s Eve “surge pricing,” a practice where the company raised rates during peak hours. Hell, it even looks like they’ve been raising rates when it rains. Just last month the Wall Street Journal reported that Uber would spike rates in neighborhoods of cities with the most demand, a practice called geo-surging.
The rates seem to go at least as high as $4 per mile in surge times, drivers told us, while SF taxis generally charge about $2.25 per mile.
A driver sent a screenshot of a 9am morning surge. This particular morning the Richmond and Mission districts seemed to get a spike in pricing as well.
“If they’re upset about the price they accepted, that’s a different conversation than, say, a driver took a wrong turn,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told the Wall Street Journal, about neighborhood pricing in general. “The price must go up for these rides to happen. If surge pricing doesn’t happening, there’s no availability. You can’t get a ride.”
We emailed Uber but did not get a response.
In San Francisco, that demand is apparently highest in the Marina. In the leaked emails, Uber wrote to drivers to explain its reasoning behind the neighborhood pricing:
“Instead of rates being the same everywhere in SF, surge rates will be higher in busier parts of the city.
Typically, the most demand comes from the Marina (and surge pricing is the highest), with some demand in the Mission neighborhood.
We’re excited about this change, since this means surge pricing will happen in the areas that need it most.”
A look at their “typical morning rush hour surge pattern” has Uber labeling the Marina “high surge,” the Mission “low surge” and no mention for the rest of the city. Maybe the Outer Sunset and Excelsior folks just don’t use Uber? (Or maybe they’re bigger fans of pink mustaches.)
After we obtained the emails, we verified them with Uber driver Zach Hudson, who’s employed with a private limo company but uses the Uber app to find his riders.
“The morning rush is in the Marina,” he said. “It’ll be near up to three times the normal rate. I don’t think there’s a limit. But near New Year’s Eve it’s been known to go up to 500 percent.”
In this screencap of an Uber email, the company advises goign to the "outer" neighborhoods. From the context of the rest of the email, it seems "outer" is anywhere not downtown.
Uber seems to want to lure more drivers to in-demand areas, but it’s not a total loss for the western and southern neighborhoods, Hudson said.
“The avenues are pretty dead most of the time,” he explained.
And besides, can’t the Marina dwellers afford it? Though the surge pricing may not be great for consumers, Hudson said it was good for drivers.
"After Uber cut fares and essentially our commission by 20 percemt, surge pricing is the only way we can survive," he said.