Lyft and Uber algorithms jump prices after Times Square explosion

Uber, Lyft issuing refunds on surge pricing after event

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UPDATED 12:15 pm Not minutes after an explosion in the Times Square subways, Uber and Lyft car sharing services jumped its prices. A ride from Times Square downtown 30 blocks got a quote of $36 on Lyft. One rider got a price quote of $34 from Uber — and that was an Uber pool car that is shared with other passengers.

The ride-sharing services rely on algorithms — artificial intelligence programs that automatically shift pricing due to demand. With all major New York City subway lines blocked from the Times Square area, including the 1, 2, 3, A, C, E, N, Q, R, W and 7, requests for cars to transport people during rush hour increased.

Subways and buses carry more than 5.6 million of people through New York on an average weekday, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which manages the city's public transport system. The MTA has come under fire in the past several years for service issues, with problems that include breakdowns and repairs that shut down lines on weekends.

At least one group, the Fourth Regional Plan, has proposed actually decreasing the hours the subway runs in New York from 12:30 am to 5 am, reported Newsweek, changing the moniker of New York as the 'city that never sleeps.'

That shift would also open up more demand for alternative transportation — taxi cabs, but also ride-sharing services including Lyft and Uber.

While Uber and Lyft are two of the bigger names for car services in New York, the city has had private car options for riders. The difference with Uber, Lyft and other services, is the use of smartphone apps to hail these vehicles. While less picturesque than tossing an arm up in the air (a technique every New Yorker should master), the ability to schedule a car — and know it's coming — has revolutionized the way New Yorkers move about the city.

Shared cars are also growing in popularity — with companies including Juno and Via where people ride with others, and are dropped off close to their destination. Subway and bus rides in New York now cost $2.75. A shared ride in Manhattan through Via, for example, is as little as $5.

These services were mentioned in complaints on Twitter to Uber, by at least one person who complained of Uber "charging excessively" right after the explosions.

Uber told GearBrain that the company shut down surging within minutes of hearing about the explosion — and is reviewing all rides from the area. Anyone who was charged a surge fee resulting from a ride in the Times Square area because of the explosion, is getting that fee refunded proactively, says an Uber spokesperson. Additionally, riders can request that refund in the 'Help' section of the app. However drivers, Uber says, will get to keep the full fare they were quoted.

Lyft is also working to reimburse riders, says a company spokesperson.

"Our thoughts are with those injured and impacted by this morning's events," says Lyft spokesperson Scott Coriell by email. "We capped Prime Time pricing in response to this incident. For passengers who did incur higher prices as a result of Prime Time in the Port Authority area, we plan to proactively reimburse them."


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