Truth is, this hasn’t been Uber’s best week, PR-wise. Between questions about its business practices and concerns about data and privacy, the company is at the forefront of a lot of media attention—which is why it might not be bad timing for the recent release of SurgeProtector, a separate (and completely unaffiliated) iOS app designed and to help would-be riders avoid the company’s costly periods of surge pricing.
If you’re unfamiliar with Uber surge pricing and whether or not it’s fair (spoiler: it basically is), catch up on our post detailing the practice. SurgeProtector was developed to do exactly what its name promises: It lets you know before you even open the Uber app whether or not the area you’re currently in is experiencing surge pricing.[shareline text=”SurgeProtector allows would-be Uber riders to avoid surge pricing.”]
Quoted got in touch with the app’s developers, Thomas Schmidt and Nikhil Bhargava, via email. “SurgeProtector was designed and built over the course of a weekend,” Bhargava explains. “Uber had somewhat recently opened up their API for third-party developer access, and we thought that this would be a valuable tool for people who would be willing to walk a little to avoid surge pricing.” Schmidt and Bhargava have split the development work equally, and both continue to work on the app.
Simply open the SurgeProtector app and it automatically pinpoints your location. From there, you can select which Uber services are available for your current location. If your area isn’t experiencing surge pricing, great—just click “Order UberX” and the Uber app opens. If you are in a surge area, you can
have one more round walk to a slightly different location that might not be surging. Having the open API was critical, Bhargava explains: “In opening up their API, Uber allows developers to programmatically make request to access information like available services, price estimates, and time estimates for their rides. With this information available to us, we are able to infer with a high degree of accuracy where surge pricing starts an ends.”
Uber Shows its Support
And though you might expect otherwise, he adds that Uber has not given them any trouble: “Throughout the entire process, Uber has been responsive and supportive,” Bhargava says. “Their decision to increase our API limits is what makes our app successful.”
Bhargava’s co-developer, Schmidt, explained similar sentiments to Buzzfeed’s Johana Bhuiyan: “Uber’s actually been super cool about SurgeProtector,” Schmidt said. “We’ve been talking with them for the past two weeks about how we could better use their API – we were hitting the API call limit for a while – and they’ve accommodated our requests for a higher call limit. We’d be disappointed if they shut us down as we don’t see SurgeProtector becoming big enough to make any significant impact in revenue.”
Schmidt also said he didn’t see SurgeProtector as a direct competitor or even a detractor, necessarily, to Uber’s business: “In fact, we think SurgeProtector could actually increase demand as the people who use SurgeProtector to get out of surge are probably part of a contingent that wouldn’t have called a surge-priced Uber anyway,” Schmidt continued.
So does it actually work?
Does surge pricing actually change that much from one block to the next? Yes, Bhargava says: “In certain instances, it truly is the case that walking a few blocks or even just across the street can get you entirely out of surge pricing.” Any app or tech that provides drivers a safe way home and prevents driving under the influence is OK in our book—so we’re rooting for SurgeProtector’s success. Are you?