Weather, Special Events And Your Phone's Battery Life: How Uber Price Matching Works
Photo Credit: Man driving car in city at night.

Photo Credit: Man driving car in city at night.

Weather, Special Events And Your Phone's Battery Life: How Uber Price Matching Works

Shenae Curry
Shenae Curry Sep 20, 2019

Have you ever noticed that your Uber to a spot you frequent seems a bit pricier than usual at random times? Maybe getting home from your local bar is costing you more than it did to actually get there?

Who are we kidding? Of course, you’ve noticed. But have you ever took your battery life into account? Probably not.

A Twitter user by the name of @KEA_HGA posted a photo of two phones side by side showing two very different fees to reach the same destination with the caption “How can this be explained? Same location. Same destination. Same account. Different phones. Different prices.”

Some commented questioning the brand of phones, one being an Android and the other, an iPhone. But points were docked from that argument being that the iPhone fare was cheaper than the other.

Now maybe, like mine, your mind has wandered to a time you and some friends were getting ready to go out and everyone calls for a cab at the same time to see who has better prices.

The initial post was quoted by user, @Prestige_T, with some enlightening information that left others in shock feeling bamboozled and led astray.

It turns out that Uber has an internal algorithm that affects prices based on your battery life and you can pretty much chalk it all up to supply and demand or the technical term, Dynamic Pricing.

Yup, Uber is cashing out at the expense of your pain.

It’s late, you’re tired and you know your phone isn’t gonna last during that 45-minute train ride home so you’re thinking “let me call an Uber so I can at least charge my phone on the way.” Oh, yeah. They know.

According to Keith Chen, head of Uber’s economic research, “One of the strongest predictors of whether or not you are going to be sensitive to surge—in other words, whether or not you are going to kind of say, oh, I’ll give it a 10 to 15 minutes to see if surge goes away—is how much battery you have left on your cell phone.”

During a talk with NPR’s Shankar Vedantam on a recent episode of the Hidden Brain podcast, Chen basically let us know Uber knows that you’re more likely to accept a surge-priced fare, regardless of the price, if your phone’s about to die because you need a ride home immediately, and if your battery’s death is imminent, you can’t afford to wait 15 minutes to see if the price drops down again. Uber knows when its users’ phone batteries are running low because the app switches into power-saving mode. “And we absolutely don’t use that to kind of like push you a higher surge price, but it’s an interesting kind of a psychological fact of human behavior,” Chen said.

Dynamic Pricing works through Algorithmic Pricing, which determines what price to deliver based on different variables like your location, time of day, traffic patterns and even your user history with Uber. This data is collected, and the algorithm predicts the top price that you are most likely willing to pay. This “willingness to pay” algorithm can determine how likely you are to agree to the price of the ride at the current time.

Dynamic/Algorithmic pricing is also why a lot of people tend to clear their cookies/cache when searching & booking flights.

So next time you know you’re going to be on the move, make sure you or a friend is fully charged up so you can save a little coin on the cabs!

*insert The More You Know gif*

Update (9.24.2019): According to an update from Uber’s Consumer Communications, the rideshare company does not use battery life to determine surge pricing but they do know that you’re more likely to accept higher prices if your phone is dying.

Last year Uber launched What Moves Us to share how their pricing and matching technology works.

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