Researchers Accuse Uber Drivers Of Colluding And Gaming The System To Jack Up Fare Prices In Major Cities

Uber, a pioneer in ridesharing, just can't seem to avoid controversy. The latest one involves alleged collusion to drive up prices in certain cities with large populations. If true, it would be another black eye for Uber, which once admitted to (and promised to stop) using special software to evade law enforcement and has been at the center of a sexual harassment scandal.

In this instance, researchers at the University of Warwick claim that to have evidence that Uber drivers in London and New York have been manipulating the ridesharing service's mobile app to make it look like there is a shortage of cars in the area. The reason for doing so is to drive up the price of fares, which happens when there are not enough drivers available.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons (Elekes Andor)

There are certain times that Uber fares are prone to going up. Peak hours, for example, along with public events such as concerts and sporting contests. Whenever there are not enough drivers to go around, surge pricing can kick up the cost of a ride to multiple times the normal rate.

According to the results of the study, drivers have been colluding with each other to force surge pricing. The researchers conducted interviews with Uber drivers in London and New York, and also conducted research online in various forums where Uber drivers hang out.

"Guys, stay logged off until surge. Less supply high demand = surge," one of the posts reads.

Some voiced concern that Uber would find out about their attempts to drive up the cost of fares, to which one person responded, "They already know [because] it happens every week."

"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."

It is not known exactly how prevalent this practice is or ultimately what effect it has on prices overall. However, Uber responded to the study by saying this is "neither widespread or permissible" on its mobile app, and that it has several safeguards in place to prevent gaming the system.

Thumbnail Image Source: Flickr (Alper Çuğun)