Two months after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick offered customers a New Year's Eve primer on how to avoid getting gouged by Uber, the company is redoubling its charm offensive.
In a blog published Monday afternoon, Uber introduced a new app to bypass Uber gouging. Called Surge Drop, it notifies users when surge pricing ends at their location, so that they can wait for a cheaper ride.
"We're taking transparency to the next level!" gushed the blog, penned by a company that's widely reviled for its lack of transparency.
Asked to explain the impetus for Surge Drop, an Uber spokesman pointed back to the blog post, which characterizes the feature as an olive branch for irritated consumers. "We'll stay true to our pledge to get you the fastest ride available, and sometimes that will require surge pricing to get more drivers on the road," the blog says. But it alleviates the laissez-faire model somewhat by offering a cheaper alternative for those who can wait.
To Trevor Johnson, technical director of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association and staunch critic of Uber, Surge Drop is just a PR weapon -- or a last-ditch attempt to fend off criticism for surge pricing, much of which has originated from Uber's closest competitors. Indeed, Israeli-based startup Gett (known globally as GetTaxi), built an entire marketing campaign by denouncing Uber's surge-pricing model.
Johnson says Surge Drop is just another way for Uber to stay competitive, under the auspice of helping its clientele. "Uber is undercutting the legal competition worldwide, holding cattle calls for drivers and trying to flood the market with supply, presumably so that they can control the prices of on-demand transportation for hire," Johnson writes, via e-mail. "If they continue with their underhanded business tactics, a cross-town (non-surge) ride three years from now could cost well over $100."
That scenario might be far-fetched, given that glut of new players in the app-based transportation market. But with reports of a $415 cross-town Uber ride still circling the web, it appears the company might have to rally a stronger defense. Surge Drop might not even do it.