I’m an Uber fan. And I’ve enjoyed following them from the start – from taxi hailing to private car service, surge pricing, the transition to delivery, and now to pooled rides. I’m fascinated that a huge percentage of their fundraising goes towards legal battles.
And I’m also a customer. As such, I talk to my drivers incessantly and ask them a lot of questions. I sometimes take Lyft (if Uber is in surge and Lyft isn’t) but usually I use Uber.
Recently, I had a thought. Sometimes I look at Uber and if it is in surge I take the T instead. Getting from work to home costs about $13 for UberX, $7 for UberPool, and is effectively free with a monthly T pass that’s already paid for.
I started to wonder – isn’t the market symmetric? That is, just like putting Uber into surge is supposed to attract more drivers, wouldn’t there be an equivalent “under-surge” that would attract more passengers?
A lot has been written about whether Uber drivers really make the kind of money Uber claims they do. It’s hard to determine whether it’s true or not. But most of the drivers I talk to would rather have a fare than not, even if it’s a short one, or one that gives them an empty car back to the city. It would seem to me that they wouldn’t mind fares where they just broke even, if it put more riders on the road.
The thing is, if there were an “under-surge” that enticed more riders to take Uber when there were a lot of empty cars driving around, it might create new rider habits. If I took Uber home from work more often because I could take advantage of under-surge, perhaps I’d get used to taking Uber home and do it even when there wasn’t an under-surge.
Habits are powerful. And the economics of Uber provide fascinating examples of all kids of market dynamics.