It was the summer of 2013 and I was fresh off my first championship in Korea. I decided to move into Hollywood this time instead of my previous residence in downtown LA. With the move came new scenery, new friends, and eventually, a new love.
As with most new relationships, we met one night through a friend. “I gotta introduce you to Uber,” he said. Much like the sneaky dater I am, I proceeded to online stalk Uber until I had all the information I needed. It looked perfect. Uber was always available, more fun than the rest, and a cheap date, too. I got with Uber that night and off we were.
Uber didn’t care that I got drunk. Uber never left me stranded. Uber was what I had always been waiting for but never knew I needed. I was happy. We were happy. I figured it would last forever. Two years later here I am… Unhappy.
All jokes aside, I ride in Uber vehicles nearly every day. Most days it’s twice. I know a great deal about the app, the pricing, and the changes that have come along the way. That said, it goes without question that Uber’s “surge” pricing has become more and more prevalent. It would seem that every time the price of Uber drops, the rate at which that price is “surged” rises. Lately, nearly every time I call for an uber I have to hit the “2” “.” “0” before I can accept my ride.
But that’s not really the reason I’m over Uber. I mean, I was still into them even after surge pricing jacked the price of my Uber at Coachella last summer to a nice $406 for a ride that was 15 minutes in total.
I was even still into them when I read that they surge priced people attempting to flee a gunman in Sydney last year.
I officially broke up with Uber when I realized why surge pricing happens so often in my area. Let me preface this by saying it’s only a hypothesis, but one that has been proven true time and again. So maybe there’s an Uber official who will let me know if I’m wrong, although I doubt it.
So here’s the deal: Uber drivers in my area are manipulating the surge pricing themselves. Let me explain. When I first moved into my building, I loved that I could turn on the Uber app and see 50 cars within a few hundred feet. My wait time was never more than one minute, and life was good. Then Uber dropped their prices and I began to see less and less cars. I figured it had something to do with drivers quitting the job because they were getting paid less. But nowadays if I open the app there maybe a single Uber X car available, if any. The wait times listed are between six and ten minutes, but then surge pricing kicks in and voila! 50 cars available once again!
I figured out that the drivers know that if there are no available drivers in the area, the surge pricing kicks in right away. So all they have to do is go offline, use their personal cell phone to open the app to make sure that other drivers are all offline too, then simply wait for a text saying surge pricing is on. At that point they go right back online and drive.
There are a few things that made this clearer to me. First of all, nearly every Uber driver in my area is Armenian. I have no clue why, exactly, but they are. 35-55 year old Armenian born men make up 95% of the drivers I get (funny side note: they always call it Hollyvood and Wine). I assume that they started communicating with one another about how to coordinate the surge pricing simply because I’m sure it’s a close community. A new driver comes to Uber via word of mouth, then is told how to work the system right away. Boom. Secondly, when I do get a non-Armenian driver AND it’s also not surge pricing, it’s someone super far away. The person will start heading my way, then cancel. It happens A LOT. I assume this is because as they get closer to my area, they get a text that says Surge pricing is on, and they cancel and pick up rides in my area, never knowing that it’s because the local Armenians have coordinated the whole thing. Lastly, some guys don’t even cancel when they figure out surge pricing is on, they just drive the complete wrong way. They do this so that eventually I HAVE TO CANCEL, meaning they can still charge me without ever having to pick me up and I can’t rate them.
Ok, so that may have been confusing. I’ll tell you what happened yesterday, specifically. My homegirl was at my crib and was ready to leave so she opened the app. She was surprised to see a 1.7x surge price. She asked if she should wait, and I told her no, citing the things I’m telling you now. So she accepted the surge and her ride was here in seconds (no surprise). As she was heading for the door, she got a confused look on her face. I asked her what the problem was and she said her driver had to cancel. So she opens the app again and bam! 3.5x surge. EVEN MORE CARS ARE NOW AVAILABLE TO DRIVE IMMEDIATELY. Clearly they were waiting until the perfect moment.
This is why I’ve switched to Lyft for the time being. I can’t say it’s better, because I don’t know. I’m only really switching to see if the Armenian mafia thing holds any weight. Lyft drivers are almost always young people raised locally. I don’t know why. I do know that Armenian or not, the drivers know what they’re doing and so do I. I’m leaving Uber. I got Lyft as my main, and Sidecar as my side chick. We’ll see how it goes.