Despite policies that prohibit the manipulation of rideshare apps, drivers for Uber and Lyft are reportedly working together to coordinate price surges at Reagan National Airport to earn a higher fare.
WJLA reported last week that this group effort to game the apps occurs “several times” on a nightly basis at the Arlington, Virginia airport over what drivers told the outlet are unfair wages. Under this system, according to WJLA, drivers shut down their apps at the same time, relying on flight arrival times to know when to power down.
The drivers then reportedly wait a couple of minutes as the demand hikes before powering back on at the same time at the command of a driver watching the price hike using a different app. One driver told WJLA that these coordinated surges can add anywhere from $5 to $19 to a fare.
Uber states in its rules that any attempt to game its system is considered fraud and can lead to a user’s account being deactivated, be they a rider or driver. Reached for comment, a spokesperson told Gizmodo by email that the practice “is neither widespread or permissible on the Uber platform, and we have technical safeguards in place to help prevent it from happening.”
The spokesperson pointed to a 2015 article from the Washington Post about one apparent surge-manipulating system—accepting and then immediately canceling rides—that noted the tactic was likely not sustainable long term. Indeed, Uber has acceptance rate and cancellation policies in place to prevent such activity. (With respect to trip acceptance, the company says it may log out users who consistently decline trips, though it states that “not accepting trip requests does not lead to permanent loss of your account.”) But Uber did not answer further questions about the system apparently being used by drivers at Reagan National Airport.
In a statement by email, a spokesperson for Lyft said the company “takes any allegations of fraudulent behavior very seriously as it violates our community guidelines and can lead to deactivation from the Lyft platform.” The spokesperson said the company is currently in conversations with the airport about the practice.
Drivers told WJLA that they have resorted to using the system because of falling pay, one of the foremost reasons Uber drivers around the world went on strike in May. According to multiple studies, Uber drivers can make less than minimum wage after accounting for expenses like gas and wear and tear on their cars.
Ahead of the global protest earlier this month, Uber driver Omar Alkhameri told Gizmodo that the company needs to “help drivers make their living and survive. Treat us as human beings.”
Clarification: Added additional information on the difference between Uber’s trip cancellation and acceptance policies.