Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Data Scientists Have Isolated the Exact Times a Yellow Taxi is a Better Deal Than an Uber (Plus-avoid surge pricing!)

First up, Quartz:
Uber, the on-demand taxi service, is on course to revolutionize the way we travel in cities. It’s so popular that it has changed how we talk about other new on-demand services and it’s now valued at over $40 billion. But a team of researchers has shown that—at least in New York City—there are plenty of times when a regular old yellow taxi is cheaper than an Uber.

A group of computer scientists from the University of Cambridge and Belgium’s University of Nanmur calculated that Uber is more expensive than a yellow cab for a trip in New York City that costs less than $35, the MIT Technology Review reports.

As the research paper says, “human mobility tends to be characterised by a vast majority of short trips” and “Uber’s economical model exploits this trend of human mobility in order to maximise revenue.” The argument is that Uber’s model skews more expensive for shorter rides. In short: You should probably just wait for a  cab.
The research team figured this out by comparing a list of trip and fare data for every yellow cab ride taken in 2013 with Uber’s system, which allows anyone to query how much a fare between two points would cost. Researchers compared prices for Uber’s lowest-cost offering, Uber X, with the trip data from the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. Uber’s API returns a range of prices it expects the fare to be within, so the researchers averaged the range to get their comparisons....MORE
And  a repost from last November:

I've Got Your Disruptive App: How To Get Around Uber's Surge Pricing
From Ars Technica:

How you (yes you!) can get around Uber’s surge pricing

New iOS app, SurgeProtector, shows users where to walk for lower Uber prices.

As Uber continues to expand worldwide (and has run-ins with local regulators), it’s become famous for its "surge pricing"—the phenomenon where as demand increases for cars, the price dramatically goes up.
New York State went so far as to put a cap on the practice during "abnormal disruptions" in July 2014. Recently, a North Carolina man was charged $455 for a 15-mile ride on Halloween night. Outraged, he reported it to the state’s attorney general, which has taken up the issue.

To deal with this problem, enter a new, free iOS app (an Android version is coming soon) called SurgeProtector. The app aims to help Uber users avoid being shocked by surge pricing simply by telling them where they can go to pay more normal prices. (Uber did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.)

The app, which was released last week, taps directly into the Uber API (which first became available in August 2014). It checks to see whether surge pricing is in effect for a given location.
"We have an algorithm that calls locations around you that tries to get a regular price—it’s surprisingly granular," Thomas Schmidt, one of the app’s creators, told Ars. "In places with high population density, it will be a difference of two to three blocks over, it can go from 2x surging to nothing. It’s super useful in San Francisco."...MORE