Hacking Uber’s Surge Pricing

Das Über SurgeSurge pricing. If you’ve ever taken Uber you know what that is. Demand is high for rides, so the price goes up. It doesn’t always seem like that is the case though when you see surge pricing in effect at odd times and I found out some interesting information yesterday.

I was at a meeting when someone mentioned that Uber has a team of employees whose job it is to keep the drivers from hacking the surge pricing system. This person thought it was only in effect on the East Coast, but I mentioned that I’ve heard from online groups that the drivers in San Francisco are doing this as well. Here’s how it works:

When Uber isn’t surging the price is usually less than a taxi. This is good for the riders, but not the drivers. So the drivers have organized online through various ways of communicating to all go offline when Uber does not have surge prices and then request and cancel rides to increase demand causing Uber’s servers to automatically turn on surge pricing thereby increasing the cost of the fare.

There have been recent articles over the past couple of days of Uber & Lyft accusing each other of booking and canceling rides as a way to take drivers off the road. While I don’t know about Lyft because I haven’t met as many Lyft drivers the same might be true there so that in reality it’s not drivers collecting to try to screw up the competition, but the drivers are actually working to increase their profitability by hacking their own systems. This is all just theory from me since none of the other companies working as TNC’s are being affected and none of the other companies increase their pricing when demand is high. In the end it seems that the only people who benefit from less drivers being on the road is the drivers because that then increases how much money you can make.

As an example, I tweeted that after Outsidelands because of Uber’s surge pricing [Lyft doesn't give you estimates] it would have cost me $40 for a ride home just over a mile from the concert. While this wasn’t a forced form of surge pricing because demand definitely was high, there was also traffic involved which means that $40 estimate [or $75 estimate to get from Outsidelands to Russian Hill] didn’t take into account that it would be a slower ride which would increase the cost and drivers income even more making the fare more expensive.

Most of the drivers who were driving during the Outsidelands surge pricing were making between $60-$100/hour. This is much better than the $17-$30 you hear drivers talk about during non-surge times. Some of these drivers where earning the equivalent of a 40 hour week at $15/hour in six hours in one day.

Now can you see why drivers would like to be able to drive only during surge pricing? I would suspect that because surge pricing pops up so much that Uber isn’t working too hard to stop it because after all it just increases their bottom line.

A lot of this is just speculative talk as I’m not on the inside with Uber, but I am on boards where there are lots of Uber [and Lyft] drivers with loose tongues who think that no one will ever see what you’re posting on the internet and if it’s on the internet it must be true. :)

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A Part Of San Francisco Just Died

Robin Williams RIPWhen I got the news yesterday evening it hit me hard. It hit a lot of people hard, but especially those of us who live in San Francisco when we got the news that Robin Williams had died.

San Francisco hasn’t had many resident celebrities in quite a long time, but Robin loved San Francisco. He had even said in the past that there was no other city he could imagine himself living in and for the people of San Francisco that was pretty cool. He had a mansion in Sea Cliff so it wasn’t unusual to run into him in the Richmond District and he would also frequent the Sunset on his way to The Other Cafe comedy club where he would frequently pop in just to see who might be the next new kid in town and sometimes, if you were lucky he’d just jump up on stage and take over the place. He brought a whole new side to comedy that all you could do is strap yourself in and hold on because you never knew what he was going to throw at you. I think sometimes he didn’t know what he was going to do when he got up on stage either.

For most of America we first met Robin Williams a long time ago when he caught our eye as that weird alien who made a guest appearance on Happy Days before he got his own spin off. Most of the world knew him as Mork from Ork, but even back then he was still Robin Williams, the stand up comedian for us in San Francisco.

It was pretty hard to live here and not run into him. I saw him all the time at the Other Cafe, but ran into somewhat frequently in the Richmond or Sunset Districts. The best part about him was he was friendly to all the people who could come up to him. I’d see him walking down the street and someone would walk up to him and he’d smile and shake their hand. I could never figure out how he could do it all the time without going crazy. Whenever I’d see him someone would be walking up to him, yet he didn’t seem to mind. I really wanted to ask him one of the times I saw him, but I only got to officially meet him once. I had a girlfriend who was very into comedians. I guess I should have taken that as a complement. We wouldn’t go out to nightclubs on the weekends, she drag me to the Other Cafe just about every other day of the week. She got a little giddy the first time she saw Robin Williams walk in and practically dislocated my arm dragging me over to meet him. She then pushed me in front of her to do the introductions because I guess that was my job. Hi Robin, I’m Eric and my girlfriend dragged me over so I could introduce her to you because she thinks I’m someone. We shook hands and she pushed me out of the way and out of the picture for the moment. All I could do at that point was say, you can throw her back if you’d like. I got a small hint of a laugh out of him. Subsequent trips to the Other Cafe when he would show up and I was with her he’d glance over and give us the thumbs up. I think the best part of it was she probably thought he was acknowledging her presence and I thought it was a non-verbal way of saying to me, still on that honeymoon? Who knows what he really meant by it. Robin was always like that weird uncle you had. You never knew what would happen when he was around but you were always waiting to see what it would be.

The best part about Robin was that he never lost his edge. That childlike craziness he had onstage or when he was Mork stayed with him. Drugs didn’t take it away, Alcohol didn’t take it away, Heart surgery didn’t take it away. We don’t know all the details yet, but so far it looks like it was a suicide. Robin died in his home in Marin. I remember him making jokes about people in Marin and how disconnected they were from the rest of the world. I’d just like to think that it didn’t disconnect him from the world that loved him.

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OutsideLands Travel Tips

OutsideLandsSince I’ve got a broken ankle I can’t do too much so I was checking out the prices last night after OutsideLands finished for taking a ride with the various TNC’s as an alternative to cab rides or muni. It was pretty shocking.

I drive for Sidecar and was able to drive last year and it was pretty busy. Most of the rides were short because people would park a few blocks away and walk to the concert. Most of my trips were for around $8-$10. This year it was different. A lot different.

I started checking prices around 9:30pm on Uber and Sidecar [Lyft doesn't give estimates, but I had heard they were charging 25% Prime Time Tips on top of their ride fee]. Here’s what I found. I live a little over a mile from OutsideLands and was curious what a ride would cost me to get home from there:

Uber: $40 [estimate]

Sidecar: $6 [real price]

WTF?!?!?!

Yes, Uber has what is known as surge pricing. If Uber thinks there is going to be a high demand they will charge more to get more drivers out there. It’s actually the opposite of the supply and demand idea. When a lot of people want a product the price goes down to move more product. Uber is a service though, so when demand goes up so does the price. The biggest problem is that Uber isn’t the only game in town as much as they’d like to think.

Sidecar has a policy where driver’s can set their own prices, but new drivers are set up so that their first 25 rides will be forced to the minimum of $5 and base multiplier of 1.0. This doesn’t mean all rides will be $5, but they will be cheaper. This pricing makes regular Sidecar drivers stay competitive with the new drivers and not seriously overcharging for the service. It’s kind of an odd way of doing business, but it seems to work out better so far for the riders.

Another odd thing was that if you tried to get an Uber car at 9:30 on the Richmond side of Golden Gate Park it was surging at 5.0x, but if you walked a little bit to the Sunset side to get an Uber car it was at 2.0x. That’s over half the price. Here’s where it gets a little weird. Richmond side Uber to Russian Hill [a friend of mine asked me this question] $75. Sunset side Uber to Russian Hill $50. Yes, you could save $25 and take a longer ride just by walking the equivalent of a couple of blocks.

My advice to people looking for an alternative to the overburdened Muni to get too and from OutsideLands is that if you’re going to take Uber go to the Sunset [south] side of Golden Gate Park to request a ride, or just look for Sidecar which will save you the most money. It won’t guarantee you a $6, but it will definitely be a lot cheaper than Uber or Lyft.

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Attack Of The Amazing Sea Condoms!

Condom Of The Sea

If you’ve been walking along the beach lately enjoying the odd hot weather that El Niño has been causing you’ve probably seen thousands of what look like blue condoms all rolled up on the sands. Apparently I hadn’t realized that people who moved here hadn’t been here long enough to know the story of the Sea Condoms.

No, they are the leftovers from an orgy that Poseidon had out in the ocean, but they’re a hydrozoan with the proper name of Velella velella. Commonly known as sea raftby-the-wind sailorpurple saillittle sail, or simply Velella. They are from the family of ocean dwelling organisms called Cnidaria which you may have heard of Velella’s famous relative the Portuguese Man-O-War. Velella have stinging cells just like the Man-O-War, but they’re pretty weak and harmless to humans. If you bother to pick one up they might feel a little bit sticky to you, but that’s about it. You won’t have to worry about falling over scream and writhing in pain because of one since they’re harmless and if they’re on the beach they’re pretty much dead as well.

Velella spend their lives pretty much just floating around and hoping something they can eat gets stuck in it’s tentacles. Imagine spending your whole life just sitting around doing nothing and eating when food just happens to be in the neighborhood. Not very interesting and pretty boring which I guess is OK when you don’t have a brain. Usually you see them on the beaches in the Spring coming up with the warm water, but because of El Niño we’re seeing them in late summer and fall now.

The biggest thing you’ll have to worry about will come in a couple of weeks when they really get busy rotting on the beach. The stench will be practically unbearable. It has a smell kind of like rotting seafood mixed with sewage. I suppose that’s in part to the fact that they can’t be too picky about what they eat when they’re just floating around all day and night. When I first started to see them as a kid I had to grab a few and bring them to the aquarium at the Academy of Sciences because in between their research they like nothing better than to look at something dead and smelly and identify it to make a little kid happy.

I brought my bag in and handed it to someone in Invertebrate Zoology [see, I was a smart kid and knew that it wasn't a fish] and they said, Oh, it’s a Velella and tossed it aside. Apparently these sea condoms as we called them just aren’t that interesting unless you have to deal with the smell of their rotting corpses. They’re actually a colony of a group of animals that over about three weeks time join together into a little sea tribe of hydrozoans to eat and breed together before they end up washing up and rotting on a beach somewhere, so calling them sea condoms wasn’t too far off since sex is at least involved. From their medusa larval stage to sea condom takes about three weeks and then that’s pretty much it for them.

They’re here, they’ll be rotting for awhile and you probably don’t want your dog to eat any because, well, they’re rotting. You can touch them if you like. They feel kind of rubbery, but other than that there isn’t too much to say about them. It’s actually once of the bizarre things about San Francisco that there isn’t much of an interesting story behind, so you should at least refer to them as Sea Condoms.

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El Niño Is Coming

topex_pacific_2003097_lrgHave you been enjoying our warm weather lately? I sure have. I just recently put on jeans for the first time in over 3 weeks. I’m not sure if I’ve ever worn shorts for that long in my entire life in San Francisco. It’s a sign — El Niño is coming.

I predicted this last year. Summer last year was freezing and I also don’t think I had heard more people misquoting Mark Twain talking about The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. It was cold alright, but when our San Francisco Indian Summer kicked in it became kind of magical here. The problem was that usually around late November it starts to get cold — it didn’t. It was a bit on the cool side, but nothing near what it should have been. As time went on we had more warm weather with a freak downpour in February that lasted about 15 minutes after which I was seeing steam coming off the ground in the Sunset District.

It was then I knew that I was right and El Niño would be coming. NOAA has been saying we’ll have one, but it won’t be huge. I’m predicting it will be a pretty big one. We had a big one in 1999 which means only about five people were here to experience it. Let me tell you what it was like…

Expect rain, lots of rain. It’ll be different than the usual rain in that it will be more like it’s raining in Hawaii. It will be like someone turned a firehose on San Francisco for 15-20 minutes and then it will stop. The rain will be so heavy that when it stops if you are driving that you will have to drive through a temporary river that takes another 10 minutes to flow away. It will then be sunny and warm again. The general weather will change from overcast to sunny all throughout the day with weird downpours every now and then. The weirdest part of the rain is that it’ll come from smaller clouds that won’t be blocking out the sun so you’ll get a fierce downpour combined with sun which can look like diamonds falling from the sky. In 1999 it was so bizarre that on New Years Eve I was sitting out in front of my house BBQ’ing Ostrich steaks [I had money back then].

Rain is good. California needs it badly. It will help our drought problem, but it won’t make it go away. California is one of the largest agricultural providers in the entire United States so any water we can get we’ll take. You have to keep in mind though that will lots of sudden rain there will be problems — like land slides.

If you live in Marin or on the Peninsula expect to encounter the hills flowing into your backyards. I remember reading about lots of people losing their homes last time the big El Niño hit us. If you have even a little bit of survivalist in you I’d stock up now just in case. If you’re in San Francisco expect to see the storm drains overflowing to the point that you’ll see a few manhole covers rising up from water pushing its way out. If you’re living in the eastern part of the city where you might have a lower apartment, get sandbags. You’ll be flooded. If there’s any drainage system in place make sure it works because it will be overloaded.

El Niño is a weird phenomenon that hits us about every 5 years where the water temperature in the ocean rises considerably. The warmer it gets the worse El Niño is for us. I remember in 1999 a friend of mine who was a scuba diver bought a dry suit to keep him warmer during his dives and he ended up never putting it on once that year. San Francisco will become a little more tropical for a few months so the best thing I can say is to enjoy it and hope that it’s big enough to put a dent in our drought.

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Need A Ride To The Airport?

This isn’t getting mentioned in the media or even in any bloggers so I figured I better scoop this story for all my fellow TNC drivers so that the public knows and understands a current problem that we all have now that is especially bad in San Francisco.

In September of 2013 The CPUC decided that ridesharing companies such as Sidecar, Lyft & Uber had every right to operate in California. The CPUC call the companies TNC’s for Transportation Network Companies because they use cell phones to communicate ride requests as well as the processing of payments for rides. One of the little things that was sort of buried in the decision was that all TNC’s much work with local airports to establish an agreement for operating at these locations.

As you know I drive for Sidecar and it was always the general rule of thumb that you could drop off, but not pick up passengers at SFO until further agreements could be reached because at the time that was what the airport had written into it’s laws. Any company doing business on the airport premises or off for the purpose of picking up passengers on airport property had to have an agreement in writing with SFO. Nothing was said about dropping off people so that what we went with.

Well, things have changed. SFO has issued a statement to all TNC’s that until they get a permit from them they cannot drop off or pick up passengers on SFO property. I believe LAX has issued the same statement, but not pretty much every airport in California is like this. From my experience with Sidecar I know that they are actively pursuing the permit, but they have run into a few snags from SFO’s list of items TNC’s need to provide in order to get the permit. This isn’t only a Sidecar problem, but something that all TNC’s have a problem with. Some of the requests are based on old technology that doesn’t apply to new technology. Kind of like if the horse trade organization said that all cars needed to have distemper shots so they were healthy. The two don’t necessarily work together. All the TNC’s are trying to work the bugs out, but currently, no one has a permit.

The biggest problem and this is the most important thing that anyone who uses TNC’s for transportation needs to realize that as of right now the airports are off limits. Let me put that is a bit large type so it stands out:

TNC’s cannot drive you or pick you up from the airport.

 

Please pass this along to all your friends, neighbors, everyone. This has become more of a problem because the airports and especially SFO are starting to crack down. I see reports daily of drivers for many of these TNC’s getting stopped and ticketed for dropping off or picking up passengers at SFO. I’ve heard that it’s happening at other airports in California as well, but SFO is the worse.

Some of the TNC’s are being a bit passive aggressively defiant in that they are telling drivers they will cover the cost of the ticket [which I have heard runs between $220-$600 depending on what they write you up on], but they aren’t telling drivers not to take people to the airport. This makes some of these TNC’s look bad to the CPUC who has given them the right to operate in California. Sidecar has officially told all of it’s drivers to not accept rides to or from SFO and that is easy because riders have to put in their destination when they request a ride. Sidecar is also working on blocking requests to the airport until they can resolve the problem with SFO. Those other TNC’s aren’t doing this.

Why is this a problem for you the rider? The CPUC has given TNC’s a right to operate in California and it was the first state where this was done. All of these companies have started in San Francisco as well so we are the bullseye that everyone is aiming for. Many of you love TNC’s because they’re more pleasant than taxi’s. TNC drivers are held more accountable than taxi drivers to the point that we’re seeing a lot of taxi drivers changing their attitude and coming over to work for TNC’s because they can make more money with less outlay of cash [you do realize that taxi drivers have to pay upfront before the cab even leaves the lot]. In San Francisco and the Bay Area TNC’s have changed the way people get around. TNC’s you can request and they show up within minutes. They don’t demand a tip [though they appreciate it], you will never hear, machine is broken, cash only and in general the drivers are much more pleasant to ride with. Pricing can even be less expensive than a cab frequently.

If you want to see this all go away then go ahead and book rides to the airport. There will always be drivers who will take the risk that don’t understand that while they might get $35 from that ride to the airport [less than a taxi] in the end they could help bringing TNC’s in San Francisco, California and then spreading out to the rest of the country and world to an end. I happen to like driving for a TNC and I’ve met lots of fun and interesting people and made lots of new friends. I know I’m helping out people who need to get somewhere quickly and it’s giving me a way to make money on a flexible schedule. Please do not ask for trips to the airport because if you do you might find yourself walking home at 2am on a Saturday night or waiting an hour to find a taxi to hail.

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I’ve Got Some Good News, And Some Bad News…

legHello everyone!

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted anything here because I’ve been busy working and doing a few upgrades around my house which has taken up all of time. That’s about to change. As you can see from the picture, I managed to break my ankle yesterday and I’m not out of commission for the next six weeks. I’d only be out of commission for a few days if it was my left foot, but unfortunately I need my right foot to drive so I am temporarily unable to work.

With that being said, I’ll have some more time to devote to dipping into my backlog of my take on news and information around San Francisco now as well as some fun things from the past.

I unfortunately missed the new opening of the Boathouse at Stow Lake that I would like to see how that turned out after all the build up and I also have some news about San Francisco’s popular new way to get around using the companies such as Lyft, Uber and Sidecar.

OK, the percocet is kicking in so I need to go rest for a bit, but I’ll have some new articles in a couple of days.

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