Uber confirms problems with fare estimates on NYE, says they were ‘harder to find’ for NYC, Boston users

User users Tweeted complaints like this during the NYE rush.
User users Tweeted complaints like this during the NYE rush.

Uber’s critical fare estimate tool seemed to disappear for some consumers during the New Year’s Eve crush — right when it was needed most. I first reported on the problems this weekend. The firm initially said the tool was working normally, but it has now confirmed something was amiss.

An Uber spokesperson sent me a statement overnight saying that fare estimates were “harder to find than (they) should have been for some of our riders in NYC and Boston.”

This weekend, I wrote about the trouble I had — and plenty of other consumers had –when trying to get a price quote before heading home during heavy surge periods on New Year’s Eve.  While Uber’s statement says the problem hit users in New York and Boston, I spoke with a consumer in Washington D.C. who said he had the same problem.

An Uber customer support representative told me on Saturday that the bug was a “known issue;” since I initially reported the story, others have pointed out that Uber support has complained about the disappearing fare estimate button since at least October.

In its statement, Uber said it has “resolved the issue” now.

Disappearance of Uber’s fare estimate button  — or even confusion over where to find it — is more than a software glitch to the ride-sharing firm.  Fare estimates are the main argument the firm and its supporters use to justify high surge pricing during busy times, like New Year’s Eve. As long as consumers know what they are paying, there should be no complaints, that line of thinking suggests.  More critically, state laws authorizing ride-sharing services require fare estimates.

Uber told Business Insider’s Biz Carson that the firm was running an experiment on New Year’s in Boston and New York and moved the button.  Here’s additional detail from that story:

Rather than being on the confirmation screen, like in most cities, Uber had relocated the fare estimate tool was on the initial “slider” screen where Uber users could choose between UberX and Uber. Once a rider accepted surge pricing, like Sullivan did, the app would then take them to the confirmation page to book an Uber.

That’s where it becomes convoluted. If a rider wanted to check what the price of the ride would be at that level of surge pricing (a good step in order to avoid a $300 fare), Uber users in NYC and Boston would have instead had to go back to the original screen, delete their destination, and put the address in again to see an updated price. It’s not surprising that Uber riders in those two cities, especially on a night like New Year’s Eve, wouldn’t realize they needed to go back to the home screen and go through the process again to find out how much a ride would cost.

Since the app has now reverted to its former design, I have no way of reproducing my New Year’s experience.  I can say that I closed and restarted the app several times and could not figure out how to get an estimate.  I’m an experienced Uber user, so if I couldn’t find it, it was hard to find.  The explanation above confuses me because it’s hard to imagine an Uber user interface designer would think that deleting and entering an address to get an estimate makes much sense.  It’s also hard to imagine why the firm would experiment in two very large cities on its busiest, or at least its most complicated, night of the year.

Here is Uber’s complete statement:

Based on reports of an issue with our Fare Estimate feature, we dug in and determined that the tool was working properly, albeit it was a bit harder to find than it should have been for some of our riders in NYC and Boston. We apologize for the inconvenience and we have resolved the issue.”

For more details, visit my original exclusive story on this incident.

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About Bob Sullivan 1638 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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