It’s been a week since New Year’s Eve, but some South Florida celebrants are still feeling the financial hangover of their revelry.
Since the holiday, social media channels have been burning with complaints from partiers hit by whopping surge charges on Uber, the popular ridesharing service.
Though Uber is often cheaper than a traditional taxi, the app-enable service charges higher “surge prices” during high traffic periods to attract more drivers. When demand is high and supply is low, prices jump.
At one point, New Year’s Eve rates on Miami Beach were almost 10 times higher than usual, CNN correspondent Brian Selter reported on Twitter.
That meant that a 15-minute ride from Bayside to Fontainebleau at around 2 a.m. cost $187. When she got the bill, Laura Hernández, a 22-year-old Florida International University student, was furious. “I’m pretty much outraged,” she said. “I understand it was a holiday, but the traffic wasn’t that bad to be charging that much.”
Her family chose not to use a taxi based on past experiences with poor service in Miami, Hernández said.
“I was expecting that money to be used for tuition,” she said.
Uber, created in 2010, has heard this refrain before. In an effort to subdue the confusion and anger that some riders feel when facing surge pricing, Uber emailed riders and tweeted links to their New Year’s Eve “ride guide” 10 days before the holiday.
“Surge Pricing shouldn’t be a surprise. Let’s toast to you running a Fare Estimate in the app before you ride. To avoid the highest fares, head to the festivities early or catch a ride right after midnight,” the post read.
Uber also emailed, tweeted and blogged a graph showing peak surge pricing hours.
“Our goal is to make sure you can always push a button and get a ride within minutes — even on the busiest night of the year — and surge pricing helps ensure that choice is always available,” said an Uber spokesperson in a statement.” Riders are repeatedly notified about the pricing directly within the app and asked to confirm and accept increased fares, or they can opt for a notification when prices drop.”
Some riders, like Noel von Kauffmann Jr., were discouraged enough by the high prices to change their plans altogether. At times, he said Uber showed either surge prices or no available drivers.
“I stayed where I was and my friends went anyway,” he said. “The funny thing is, nobody even considered calling for a cab.”
Von Kauffmann, a hypnotist in Miami Beach, said he empathized with friends who ended up with nearly $200 bills, but he wasn’t shocked. “[Uber has] been that way since the start,” he said. “That’s what attracts the drivers in the first place.”
The 37-year-old said he has plenty of friends who drive for the ridesharing service, and he thinks their efforts go unrecognized in the Internet anger.
“They sacrificed their night and they got rewarded for getting people around safe,” he said. “Paying an exorbitant Uber bill is a lot better than what would have happened if someone got behind the wheel.”