Why You Should Never Chase Surges (and what to do instead)

Why You Should Never Chase Surges (and what to do instead)


As I write this article I am no less than a week past committing the cardinal sin of driving for a rideshare service.

Yes… I chased a surge.

Don’t laugh at me! We’ve all been hypnotized by that beautiful dark shade of red. I also had just dropped off a 3x surge rider so I was feeling lucky. Like today was my day! So with a glimmer of hope and determination in my eye, I set off to go conquer another surge!

What a bad idea that was.

Not only did I miss the surge, but I wasted 30-minutes stuck in traffic all while a surge appeared from the EXACT area that I had just come from.

As rideshare drivers, we must face the fact that surges just are not worth it. So in today’s post, we’ll examine why chasing surges is a no-no for good rideshare drivers and 4 tactics you should use instead.

Let’s dive in!

What surge prices REALLY do

Uber and Lyft’s surge algorithms remain somewhat of a mystery, however, our friends over at Cornell have done a great job of decoding and explaining how Uber’s Surge pricing works… But let me explain this it to you in English.

Ideally, the number of drivers in a given area will be exactly equal to the number riders in a given area. So whenever there are more riders than drivers, rideshare services will launch a surge.

This doesn’t necessarily mean there are a ton of potential riders, there is just an imbalance. So the surge is simply meant to do one thing:

Redistribute drivers.

The problems with Surging

This model wouldn’t be so bad in a perfect world, however, two things happen that work against the rideshare driver.

  1. Riders can easily game the system multiple ways
  2. MANY more drivers than necessary will flock to a surge area.

Now let’s pause for a quick question.

If I offered to give you a 50% discount on your steak dinner tonight if you wait ten minutes, would you do it?

Yep, you would in a heartbeat.

Riders are the exact same way. If they can just wait for 10-minutes for a cheap ride, they will wait out the surge. This means while you and 50 other drivers are headed to an area, riders will actually stop requesting rides.

“I’ve sat right in the middle of surges downtown for 15 – 20 minutes and never received a call,” says D.C. rideshare driver David. “I used to chase surges, wait there for 20 minutes and get nothing. I stopped making that mistake pretty quick.”

By simply waiting a few minutes and even checking other apps, riders can “game” the system and wait until Uber pulls all of us drivers to their area and subsequently drops prices. So while you’re chasing the big red zone, your riders are just waiting until it disappears before calling you.

You end up driving across town for a normal fare. Not great.

Riders are also becoming more aware of the predefined surge zones that rideshare services have created, which means they can simply walk a few blocks and be in a non-surging zone. It’s not uncommon to get pinged from just outside a surge zone while you are driving IN a surge zone. Again, not great.

What’s the impact of surges?

While income from surges can add a nice boost to your daily payouts, it certainly won’t make up the bulk of your earnings. In fact, a 2017 report from RideSharingDriver indicated that less than 10% of uber driver earnings came as a result of incremental income from surges.

Given these numbers, if you’re a part time driver averaging $1,500 per month driving Uber or Lyft, you can expect surge charges to make up less than $150 of your monthly pay.

Not. Great.

Find demand, don’t chase surges

With only a small piece of our earnings coming from surges, not to mention the fact that Uber is constantly considering doing away with surges, drivers need to be maximizing earnings by minimizing ideal time and maximizing their chances for long rides. So how do you do it?

  1. Brave the bars
  2. Wake up for the morning rush
  3. Know about big events
  4. Get out in the rain

Brave the bars

The late night bar crowd on Thursday’s, Friday’s, and Wednesday’s can be a gold mine for the driver willing to deal with a more “exuberant” crowd. From about 9:00 – 11:00 you can find riders that are headed to the bars from the more docile parts of the city. Then from 1:30 – 3:00 you can catch riders in popular going out area’s who will need a designated driver to get them back home. These areas will almost always have big increases in demand which turn into predictable and sustainable surges.

You’ll have to deal with riders that may have had too much to drink so come prepared with a barf bag and a few cleaning supplies to ensure that you can get back on the road quickly. Puke related accidents don’t always happen though.

“I’ve completed more than 3000 rides over the past 4 years for Uber and Lyft and have never had someone vomit in my ride.” says one of our Gridwisers Jeff. “I could just be lucky, but people for the most part just fall asleep”

Wake up for the morning rush

If you’re not a night owl then you better be an early bird if you want to maximize your earnings from ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. Demand during the early morning hours from 6:00 – 10:00 is very high in most cities because of the high volume of commuters either going to work, going to the airport, or leaving the airport.

Depending on your city, you can find workers either coming from the suburbs or more residential parts of the city into the downtown areas.

Mornings are also a great time to catch business travelers going to and coming from airports. You can use your Gridwise app to know when flights are coming in and catch a big fare at the airport. Or hang near hotels and find a traveler catching their early flight.

Know about big events

If you want to predict rider demand look no further than your local sporting, concert, and theatre venues. When they are having some of their bigger events, hundreds to thousands of people will be looking for rides to their next destination after the event is over.

You can spend an hour so looking through multiple websites for events or you can check use Gridwise to see a listing of events in your area.

[su_note note_color=”#fefedf”]Free Bonus: Know what events are going on in your city in seconds using the FREE Gridwise app.[/su_note]

Get out in the rain

Many drivers have a love/hate relationship with the rain. While it can be a pain to drive in a downpour, there is almost always a significant amount of demand during a rainstorm because riders who may have otherwise taken a long walk to their destination will decide to take a ride, while some drivers will decide it’s not worth it to try and drive.

As a driver, you’ll need to take precautions to ensure that you are driving safely and deal with a bit of extra traffic, but you’ll likely be rewarded with a nice surge fair.

Incorporating demand PREDICTION into your strategy

There is no single strategy that works for all drivers because with every driver comes a unique circumstance. While you may not be able to incorporate all of the above tactics in your strategy, you can use them as inspiration.

If you are a suburban driver that goes into the city, do your best to catch a ride from the airport into the city in the morning, or possibly a commuter making their way to their downtown office. Alternatively, if you are a single dad in the city and can’t drive during the mornings, find events that in the evenings and get out there on Friday and Saturday nights.

Every city is different and every driver is different, so what’s different about your strategy? We want to know!

Sound off in the comments below


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