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If you haven't heard of the latest Uber driver scandal, you might want to think twice before hailing a ride-share at the airport or after a big event if you see that there is "surge" pricing in effect.
A recent report details how some Uber drivers across the country have been gaming the Uber system to create artificial surge pricing at airports and special events. Basically, a group of drivers will all simultaneously turn off their apps outside airports or large events and wait for prices to increase before turning their apps back on and then accepting rides at higher rates.
Many riders, and drivers, might be wondering whether this behavior is legal.
Is It Legal?
While the drivers might just be "gaming" the system to eke out a bit more pay (which is reportedly miserable), the end result sounds like a conspiracy to engage in anticompetitive behavior, which seems likely to be a crime. In short, the ride-share drivers who do this are price-fixing, and the victims are the consumers who end up having to pay more for services. It's one thing for drivers to turn the app off and back on of their own accord, to see if surge pricing goes into effect. It's another thing entirely when they coordinate with others to manipulate the system to the paying customer's disadvantage.
Potential criminal violations would likely be very difficult to prove short of a news expose revealing drivers engaged in the practice or Uber keeping detailed records of drivers' locations and how they use the app. However, the drivers are also likely violating Uber's terms and conditions. In response, Uber commented that drivers found to be doing this could be removed.
What Can Consumers Do?
Consumers can always respond to surge pricing by using an alternative app, or even by trying to take a traditional taxi. Or, you can try just closing the app and restarting it a couple times over the next 10 or 15 minutes.