Uber Drivers Have Been Accused of Collaborating to Drive up Prices

By Tom Pritchard on at

Uber has been dealing with a lot of shit recently, shit that it probably deserves. But as evil as the company itself seems to be at the moment, it turns out the drivers aren't totally innocent either because a study claims they're trying to game the surge system and artificially inflate prices.

The study, as seen by The Times (paywall), spoke to Uber drivers in London and New York, and found Uber drivers do collaborate in order to earn themselves a higher fair. Drivers have been logging out of the app to make it look like there are less drivers on the road, and because of how Uber's surge system works, fewer drivers on the road means passengers will have to pay more. The research also includes posts on the forum UberPeople.net where passengers have documented the times they saw driver collaboration first hand.

Warwick Business School's Dr Mareike Möhlmann told the paper:

"Drivers have developed practices to regain control, even gaming the system. It shows that the algorithmic management that Uber uses may not only be ethically questionable but may also hurt the company itself."

Oh and this isn't the first time this has happened. Back in February Australia's Herald Sun (paywall, but you can read the gist of it here) reported on a secret invitation-only WhatsApp group that Uber drivers would use to artificially inflate prices. Though in this case the method involved cancelling pick-ups and immediately logging off.

In this instance an Uber Spokesperson told the site that drivers' cancellation rates were monitored, and anyone caught trying to game the system will be banned/fired/whatever you want to call it. For the more recent study, a spokesperson claims what the drivers told researchers was, in many cases, untrue.

<Update> Uber sent us the following statement about the recent research:

This behaviour is neither widespread nor permissible on the Uber app, and we have a number of technical safeguards in place to prevent it from happening.

</End Update>

To be honest it's hard not to sympathise with Uber's drivers. They're still not considered employees, and entitled to all the benefits that status includes, and the company itself has been criticised for lowering fares to attract customers - at the expense of the drivers themselves. Of course that's when it actually bothers to pay drivers properly, and the former CEO isn't beating them up for criticising him.

Things have improved with the introduction of tipping and a driver benefits package, but there's a long way to go. While gaming the surge system is bad for anyone who uses Uber, it does seem like the root cause is more than driver greed. [The Times via London Evening Standard]

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