Anticipating SURGE vs. Becoming a Victim of SURGE

It’s all about the surge!  Without surge, many Uber and Lyft drivers would simply quit.  Surge is what literally keeps a lot of drivers going.  A few hours of surge driving per week can really turn your week from a money loser into a money winner.

But there is a trick to utilizing surges properly.  If you do it wrong, you’ll end up on the losing side of the surge.  And you don’t want to be there, you want to be on the winning side!

Strategizing the Surge

The first and foremost thing you need to know about surges, is that you need to be in control of it.  Don’t let it control you.  You may hear a lot of drivers say, “don’t chase the surge” and if you do, there’s a reason for it.  Because these veteran drivers have chased the surge and almost always found it to be a losing game.

One thing about surges that new drivers don’t realize off the bat is that they never last very long.  In the early days of Uber and Lyft there were times when surges might last for hours.  But not anymore.  Today you’re lucky if a surge lasts 5 minutes!

Another thing that has changed since the first days of rideshare is that riders are now a lot more experienced at avoiding surge pricing.  Today you’ll hear drivers tell how they sat in a surge area from beginning to end and they didn’t get a single call.  They can’t understand how if it’s so busy it’s surging, why they didn’t get any calls.  They’ve even begun calling this situation a “fake surge”.  They believe Uber and Lyft create fake surges to lure drivers to certain areas that they know are going to be busy.

But, the most likely explanation is that riders have simply become adept at avoiding surge pricing.  When they open an app to summon a car and Uber or Lyft show them that the price is going to be $25 but it’s a route they travel often and they know the usual price is $15… you can bet they’re just going to shut off the app for a few minutes and wait out the surge!

Counter Surge Strategy

Because of the above reasons, and because when you find yourself in a surge zone, you might also find yourself sitting completely idle until the surge ends, there is a counter-surge strategy you should consider using.

The counter-surge strategy reasons that when a surge occurs, drivers who are nearby will flock to the surge zone.  So many drivers are new and inexperienced that a surge is still a draw for them.  So, not only will you have a lot more drivers showing up in the zone, but you’ll also suddenly have fewer passengers summoning a car.  And when you have more drivers + fewer passengers, it = disaster for your hourly earnings.

The counter-surge strategy says that if newbie drivers near the surge zone flock into the surge zone, then your best chance of getting a trip is to wait just outside the surge zone.  That’s because it will be in this area that a lot of drivers have just departed for the surge zone.  So, now the area on the outskirts of the surge zone is the place where there is actually a shortage of drivers.

You should test this in your city.  Because it may not hold true for every place around the country.  But note when you’re in a surge zone, how long you have to wait for a trip.  And whether or not you even get a trip while the surge is still on.  If you don’t, then try our counter-surge strategy.

By placing yourself just on the outskirts of the surge zone, but making sure you don’t enter the surge zone itself, you could find that you’re more likely to get a call.  It won’t be a surge call, but it will sure beat sitting empty like all the drivers in the surge zone are doing.

Okay, so that’s the counter-surge strategy and it should be used in cities where you have a lot of newbie drives who flock to surge zones and where you have riders who are surge resistant.  Because in those conditions, it will be very difficult to get any trips during a surge period.

But, if you’ve tested it and found there are certain times and circumstances where a surge really works for drivers and you can get trips, then in that case, follow our next advice.

Anticipating Surge

Ideally, if you’re in an area where riders will still summon cars even during a surge, or if you’ve found certain times where passengers will still call even during a surge, then what you want to do is anticipate the surges.

We just talked about times and places where it’s nearly impossible to get a trip during a surge, but there are other times where you’ll always get a trip no matter what.  For instance, when sporting events or concerts end.  Another time you’ll usually get a trip during surges is at bar close.  The inebriated are notoriously unrestrained when it comes to spending money!!  So, a little surge isn’t usually going to stop them from ordering a car, especially when they’re dead tired and can’t wait to get home!

In these cases though, what you want to do is anticipate the surges.  You don’t want the surges to surprise you.  Now, this takes a little time and experience to do.  But when you first start, you need to watch the apps during the hours and days that you think it might surge.  That includes morning and afternoon rush hours.  It includes bar closing time toward the end of the week.  It also includes any concerts or sporting events.

Watch those places and times on the driver apps and you’ll start to see that there are certain times when it will consistently surge.  But that doesn’t tell you if drivers are actually getting busy.  To find that out, you need to switch on the passenger apps and check the surge areas out to see if cars are disappearing.  And if so, how fast are they disappearing?

Then you want to note down all your findings so you can spot patterns.  Maybe you’ll find that every Saturday morning at 1:00 a.m. it surges near the bars.  And after checking out the passenger app you may have found that cars actually do disappear during surges.  Over a couple of weeks of noting this you can be pretty certain that if you position yourself in that area at those times you’ll get a surge trip.

Positioning Yourself for the Surge

One thing we should mention is if you are intentionally heading to an area at a time you know it normally surges, we advise you to go offline.  Because you don’t want to get a ping before the surge begins or before you’re in position.

So, go offline, get into position and wait.  Do not go back online until after you see the surge crank up.

There are also areas around the country where the drivers have worked out a system of not going online until the surge hits a certain amount.  For instance, there’s a wealthy area in New Jersey where every Friday afternoon, people start taking Ubers and Lyfts to New York City.  Drivers in that area figured out that those particular passengers are willing to pay up to 3x the regular price for a car.  So no one goes online until the surge hits 2.5x!  And every Friday afternoon at that time, you can see that wealthy town surging on up past 3x!

For more on this, see Sam’s video, “Waiting to Pull the Trigger on SURGE”

According to Uber and Lyft’s rules, you’re not allowed to ‘manipulate the surge’ so they might find you in violation of that rule.  However, they are somewhat restricted legally in what they can do about it.  Because if they exercise too much control over drivers, such as demanding that they take every call or demanding that they not go offline in an attempt to manufacture a surge, they can be found in violation of the independent contractor status they claim drivers have.

And they really have no way to know if you’re going offline in an attempt to manufacture a surge or if you’re simply going offline because you don’t want to take any calls until the price rises to a certain level.  There is in fact, no difference between those two scenarios.  As independent contractors, drivers are certainly legally entitled to refuse any calls that are for a price that’s lower than they’re willing to accept.

Uber is Testing a New Surge Strategy

You may want to put these lessons into practice before Uber turns everything upside down.  For sometime now they have been testing a new surge strategy that drivers in the test cities have been very disappointed with.

The new surge method says that if you’re in a surge zone, the next call you get will have a premium attached to it – even if that call comes from outside the surge zone.  That’s something that has long annoyed drivers.  They would go to the surge zone, but they’d get a call from outside it and that call wouldn’t be at surge pricing.

So now, Uber is saying, we’ll pay a “surge” premium even if the call comes from outside the zone, as long as you’re in the zone.  However, what they’re not being quite so open about is the fact that instead of paying a surge multiple on the time and distance of the trip, they’re just paying a flat fee… which is usually $1 – $5.

Veteran drivers know, however, that on a good surge, you might make $20 to $30 extra.  So, this measly flat fee is not setting well with drivers at all.

And it made drivers even more angry when they found out Uber is charging the passengers by the same old surge method.  Which means Uber will pocket the whole surge fee of $20 or $30 (or whatever it comes to) but will only have to pay drivers $1 – $5 – when in the past drivers, would have gotten the entire $20 or $30.  So, to say the least, this new method is not setting well with drivers at all.


Video Transcription:

In this video, I wanna talk about anticipating SURGE versus being a victim of SURGE, or chasing SURGE. Okay, don’t be a SURGE chaser, okay.

So, if you see SURGE in one area, don’t go there unless you’re just like a block or two away, because, by the time you get there, other drivers have got there, boom, demand is met.

Supply is there. Demand’s there. SURGE is gonna go down or be gone. Don’t chase SURGE. Rather, anticipate SURGE.

Now, this is a tricky thing. There’s a science, and it’s never gonna be completely consistent because people are constantly changing, other smart drivers are adapting, but what you want to do is you want to start tracking the rhythms of your city.

Where will there be a SURGE? Now, almost in every city, you know when you’re gonna have SURGE? 2:30 a.m. 2:00 a.m. at night, on Friday and Saturday, because that’s bar close.

Everyone’s going home. Most of them are drunk. Most of them have alcohol in them, and they need a ride. Great time.

You know, you’re going to get a SURGE right after a big sporting event. So anticipate [a] SURGE, and park yourself in that place so you’re there when it happens, rather than reacting.

Be proactive, not reactive, and I’m going to talk to you about third-party apps, and how you can know a little better, and how they can track the data.

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