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Uber drivers gang up to cause surge pricing, research says

Uber drivers could be forcing passengers to pay higher fares Credit: AP

2 August 2017 • 11:42am

ber drivers team up in gangs to force higher prices before they pick up passengers, research has revealed. 

Researchers at the University of Warwick found Uber drivers in London and New York have been tricking the app into thinking there is a shortage of cars in order to raise surge prices. 

According to the study. drivers manipulate Uber’s algorithm by logging out of the app at the same time, making it think that there is a shortage of cars.

Uber raises its fare prices when there is a high demand for vehicles and a short supply of drivers available. Fares are known to increase during peak times such as rush hour, during public events and late at night. Surge pricing can boost the cost of rides to multiple times the normal rate

The study said drivers have been coordinating forced surge pricing, after interviews with drivers in London and New York, and research on online forums such as Uberpeople.net. In a post on the website for drivers, seen by the researchers, one person said: "Guys, stay logged off until surge. Less supply high demand = surge." 

esponding to fears that Uber might discover that its drivers are manipulating its algorithm, the driver said: "They already know cos it happens every week." 

he researchers said the collusion reflects driver dissatisfaction with Uber’s policies regarding them, and exposes the "ethically questionable" nature of its algorithm.  

"Drivers have developed practices to regain control, even gaming the system," said Dr Mareike Möhlmann, from the University of Warwick Business School. "It shows that the algorithmic management that Uber uses may not only be ethically questionable, but may also hurt the company itself." 

The history of Uber 02:16

t is not clear how much impact the trick has had on prices. Uber denied that the practice is widespread.  

Uber said: "This behaviour is neither widespread or permissible on the Uber app, and we have a number of technical safeguards in place to prevent it from happening." 

The ride-hailing company has come under fire in the past over its surge pricing, which has rocketed during events including tube strikes, but been suspended during taxi strikes

Separate research at Northeastern University has previously found passengers can game surge pricing with simple tricks such as waiting five minutes or crossing the road. 

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