Man The Battle Apps! Repel The Uber Surges!

Posted on November 6, 2014 by - Also by this author

Argh, sometimes these surges make me feel like my head will split wide open.
Argh, sometimes these surges make me feel like my head will split wide open.

War terms are being loosely flung of late in the coverage of Uber and TNCs. This latest Vanity Fair profile attempts the sympathy via sycophancy approach for Travis Kalanick, the prickly, pugnacious CEO of Uber. (Look, he has a Marine haircut!)

Anyone familiar with Kalanick’s schemes knows how he preens in his role as aggrieved, battle-ready techno-libertine fighting for cheap rides. That character may play well in Silicon-Millennial confines, but it’s a P.R. flop in the rest of America, or at least among people who’ve been around in ground transportation and grown up in life. (What’s that cliché about vinegar and honey?)

In war and in lesser conflicts, the most satisfying defense is to outfox your enemy with an upgraded tactic -- of your enemy. In the case of Uber, it means fighting back with better apps. Here is an app, launched yesterday, that goes for Uber’s jugular: SurgeProtector, which helps riders avoid surge pricing. It reminds me of the radar detector approach to speed traps.

Uber justifies surge pricing with supply-and-demand rhetoric and upfront notice. Well, using that argument, if I own a home-supply store or grocery store, then all I have to do in the aftermath of a tornado or hurricane is post signs: Generators, $10,000!; Flashlights: $400! Water: $20 per gallon! If you don’t like it, then don’t buy it. See, we’re all free.

After all, supply and demand also means someone will be desperate enough to pay whatever amount in certain conditions and situations. Then, what is ransom other than supply and demand to the extreme? (I have your relative tied-up, so I demand $1 million or I will supply you with his ear).

If Uber annoys and then alienates enough of its riders with “supply and demand” surges, it won’t be surging much longer, which means revenues won’t make up for its cut-rate promotional splurges. That will hurt its profits. In the free market Uber so cleverly milks, bottom line market and consumer discipline tends to breed better behavior. The limo industry should promote its fixed-rate, all-in, guaranteed prices and on-time reliability to the max.

The point is if Uber surges, then the free-market can anti-surge. Creative technological minds are not only working up all kinds of niche limousine and transportation apps that compete against Uber, but in the case of SurgeProtector, ones that undercut it as well.

I hope Uber will be O.K. with such subversive free practices, since the Transportation Network Company skirts safety, labor and licensing regulations with the canard of just being a technology company. (Honest-to-God, those women I’m sending along with the stretch limos really are just chaperones, so I’m a tour guide service).

Competitive, market and free-choice consumer blowback are more powerful than any government regulation. Ah, what’s that other cliché? All is fair. . . .

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