In July, reporters with the Washington Post found a correlation between the introduction of ridesharing apps, such as Uber, and a decline in drunk-driving arrests in some cities where the apps have gained popularity. The correlation prompted MADD to tout Uber as a “reliable and affordable alternative” to drunk driving.
High Prices During Heavy Drinking Times
But recent news of Uber enacting surge charges at peak times has many folks in an uproar. On Halloween—one of the biggest underage drinking and DUI nights of the year—college students in North Carolina got an unexpected fright when Uber rates jumped nearly 10 fold. Because of the high demand during the evening, a trip that cost $30 under normal conditions became nearly $300.
Uber’s electronic pricing algorithm automatically adds surge charges during busy periods in order to attract more Uber drivers. Advocates note that this model is purely supply and demand. However, those peak periods often correspond to high drinking times, such as holidays, evenings, and weekends. Some are concerned that Uber’s peak rates could tip the scales in the wrong direction when people are deciding between a safe ride home and driving drunk.
In contrast, taxi services are regulated by local or state governments and charge a similar fare no matter the time of day. And some taxis and tow companies actually offer free or heavily discounted rates as a public service during times known for high DUIs and alcohol-involved crashes, like New Year’s Eve. Some are now calling on Uber to follow suit.
Ridesharing Less Costly Than Drunk Driving
No question, the surge pricing practices in the industry are disappointing. But when it comes to drunk driving, is Uber the lesser of two evils? The service offers an alternative in metropolitan areas that struggle with limited taxi services or public transportation that shuts down before the bars do. And even at the top of its peak rates, an Uber ride is still far less than the cost of a DUI. And of course, far safer.
Uber rates are available through the phone app before a person books the ride, so Uber argues that the cost should be no surprise. But, in the interest of helping communities that struggle with DUIs and alcohol-related crashes, should Uber consider taking a smaller cut of the cost of each ride during key times so that drivers are still incented and riders aren’t paying outrageous charges to get home safely? Should Uber be jeered for its business tactics or cheered for being another resource for combat drunk driving?