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. 🙂


$4 Toast, My Thoughts

iMfTrhtWhen I first heard someone talk about $4 toast in San Francisco I knew we weren’t talking about Wonder Bread. No one would have the cojones that big to try and sell Wonder Bread for $4, but of course San Francisco has plenty of bloggers with the cojones to make you think that. These rich techies are paying $4-$6 for a slice of toast!!!! Well, yes bread is involved and yes it’s toasted, but that’s pretty much where in ends for the most part.

Where it started is up for discussion, but people usually point to Trouble Coffee out in my hood or The Mill as the originators. They start with inch thick slices of wheat bread and slather it with butter and depending can top it with brown sugar and cinnamon, peanut butter and honey or whatever the hell they’re going to think up next. For a big eater it’s a light breakfast or a decent snack, but for the average person it’s pretty much a meal. It’s got a lot more calories and nutrition than a slice of Wonder Bread for sure.

The owner of Trouble Coffee said it was a comfort food for her because she grew up poor. For me, I was a kid in a middle class household that wasn’t hurting for money too bad and guess what my Grandmother used to make for me as a treat? Toast with lots of butter and brown sugar. Grandma would toss it under the broiler for a few seconds to get that serious caramelized effect that chefs like to go for now. It wasn’t a poor man’s pastry, it was actually more expensive than a donut back then probably because of the huge amounts of butter and stuff my Grandmother would toss on top of it. While most of the ingredients came out of boxes or bags this was home made for my Grandmother. I still like it today, I just never thought of slicing the bread an inch thick first.

My Grandmother would toss lots of stuff on bread that she’d toast. She used to broil cheese on bread and that was her version of a grilled cheese sandwich. I took a cue from her and toast bread then rub garlic on it and toss some chopped up tomatoes or other vegetables and call it lazy man’s bruschetta. Unfortunately for most people in San Francisco today lazy tends to be the norm. Finding a friend who is a foodie that can cook is kind of rare nowadays. Most of what people are spending their money on food wise has been prepared by someone else. Yes I cook so of course I’m going to not understand why other people don’t, but we’re talking about toast here. You can go to a bakery like Boudin and buy a loaf and ask them to cut it thick for you. You take it home, toast it, toss a bunch of stuff on top [if you’re slick you’ll put it under the broiler…] and you’re done.

The only reason there is $4 thick toast is that people don’t bother to do it for themselves. For the people who started selling it I think it’s a good idea. If you’ve never made it or bought it, it is something special. I had a poor period and a friend of mine gave me a 10lb bag of flour and a jar of yeast. That reminded me I knew how to make bread and I never felt hungry and I was able to do some pretty incredible things with it because when you’re hungry your mind sees everything as something you can turn into food [at least if you’re a guy like me.]


Incidentally, the $4 toast, after doing a little search didn’t start in San Francisco. It started in Japan as a breakfast item too. It has scrambled egg on top and is sprinkled with chives and is sold as tamago toast for the equivalent cost of…$4

Looks pretty good and I’ll have to give that a try one of these days now.


Defenestration To Be Demolished?

Defenestration HouseI’ve always loved the word defenestration. My fourth grade teacher Ms. Hallacker used to say it when kids in the class didn’t behave the way she wanted them to but since we were fourth graders we didn’t know that defenestration meant being thrown out of a window. Since it was only boys she would yell, I’m going to defenestrate you! and the word rhymed with castration we all assumed the worst. Every boy understands castration for some reason.

This memory leads me to a building at 6th and Howard that has been an art project since 1997. This date surprised me since I felt like it had been there much longer than that. Brian Goggin created the work and now the city is having talks about demolishing the abandon building with furniture and appliances stuck all over the outside. It’s a sparse minimalistic work that unfortunately [in my mind] doesn’t live up to it’s potential. The best way to see it is from the street which means that you have to drive by it or get hit by cars and that only gives you a few seconds to take in the bizarreness of the place.

Your other option is to stand across the street or right underneath some of hangings, but then you can’t really take it all in at it’s best. The objects stuck onto the side of the large building are rather small and appear at times to get lost in the wash of despair of the emptiness of the abandon building. Geez, I’m beginning to sound like an art critic now. I suppose college did pay off for me.

The city is debating whether or not to demolish the building possibly to replace it with mid-market condos. No one’s saying what might go there yet, but the sad story is that to many destroying public artwork will bring the area up. Not so much for the artwork, but the fact that it’s art on a decaying building that could get more use than being an empty shell. If you think about it, it’s probably one of the most expensive artwork installations in the world given what San Francisco real estate goes for even in the bad parts of town.

I tried to do some digging to get more information on the piece, but other than a sparse website, like the artwork itself it’s tough to find anything. I was hoping that Herb Caen had something to say about it, but he died just before the piece was finished, though I won’t make any correlations between the two events. Overall I think it is a piece of art that has outlived its time in San Francisco and if it were to reappear then I think they should find a smaller place where you could add more stuff falling out of windows and better viewing angles to encourage people to be able to appreciate it more.

Laurel Village

I had a chance today to walk around Laurel Village. It’s been awhile since I’ve been over there, so I wanted to see what’s changed. Well, not much, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

My wife calls it the Baby Mecca which I can see from all the strollers, er, strolling by. Now I had a lot of replies about the Marina being too white and I pointed out that it wasn’t too white, but too homogenized. You don’t here any accents there. Yoga pants and tight jeans are the style and there aren’t any fat or old people there. Well Laurel Village is a lot like that as well.

You will find older people that are a little over weight and the moms on stroller patrol tend to be older moms, but for the most part it’s very homogenized and the people there have lots of money, but also like the Marina all the non-white mom’s which strollers have white babies, oh wait, those are probably the nannies.

You’d have to just to shop here. There’s an A. G. Ferrari’s, Bryan’s Market [organic asparagus $8.99/lb and I won’t even go into the meat prices there], Cal-Mart, a little cheaper than Bryan’s, but still up there [$6.99/lb for non-organic asparagus]. As for places to eat there’s Rigolo, which is a little above my In-N-Out burger price range, but I’d like to try it some day even though the words artisan and  artisanal are all over the menu. I saw quite a few people sitting out in front around 9:30am eating salads I guess for breakfast [salad for breakfast? I’ll never understand the French especially when they give their restaurant an Italian name].

There’s Asqew Grill which I’ve talked about before that’s in my current once every three month splurge price range, but is pretty inexpensive compared to most restaurants. The food is good there’s hardly any wait during the day and the food comes quick.

For the cheap eats people you’ve got Starbucks and Peet’s for coffee and a snack and Noah’s Bagels for the cheap nosh [Now if I could only get them to bring back their grilled cheese sandwich]. You can also grab a sandwich to go at A. G. Ferrari, but you’ll be paying a little more than at Noah’s.

Oh and did I mention everyone’s like, really nice there. I went into the old Hallmark 5 & 10 store which I suppose now means $5 & $10 and not 5¢ & 10¢. Everyone who worked there was asking if they can help me find anything. It’s the one thing that hasn’t changed too much when I was a kid. It’s kind of a hardware, card, toy and kitchen store. If you get a chance you should definitely check out this neighborhood if you’ve got amount of money in your bank account.