Uber drivers in London have been accused of secretly collaborating to charge customers more, research has claimed.
According to the study, which interviewed Uber workers in the capital and New York, drivers are deliberately causing price surges so they can make passengers pay more. Academics said drivers in the same area sometimes agree to log out of the mobile phone taxi app so the number of available rides plunges. This sparks a rise in the price of the available cars, sending the price upwards and allowing drivers to reap the benefits.
The research, seen by the Times newspaper, analysed posts on website Uberpeople.net where drivers have been seen messaging each other to arrange surges.
On the forum, one London driver said: “Guys, stay logged off until surge.” A separate driver asked why and was told: “Less supply high demand = surge”. The driver added “it happens every week”. During a surge, the price of a car ride can increase to several times the normal rate.
The team of academics, from Warwick Business School in Coventry and New York University, said the drivers’ behavior could be understood as a response to Uber’s “management by algorithm”.
Warwick’s Dr Mareike Möhlmann told the Times: “Drivers have developed practices to regain control, even gaming the system. “It shows that the algorithmic management that Uber uses may not only be ethically questionable but may also hurt the company itself.”
According to Uber, the comments by drivers on which the research was based were in many cases untrue.
The company rolled out a new package of benefits to its workers in April this year, offering sick pay for the first time – although drivers will have to pay £2 a week for the “safety net”. The sick pay scheme also includes payments of up to £2,000 if they are unable to drive for two weeks or more because of illness or injury.
It comes after growing concerns over the rights of Uber and Deliveroo worker in the so-called gig economy.
A spokesman for Uber told the Standard: “This behavior is neither widespread or permissible on the Uber app, and we have a number of technical safeguards in place to prevent it from happening.”