Five years ago, hailing an Uber ride from Midtown to the Lower East Side would cost Julianne Elise Beffa, 23, between $13 and $20 for a night out on the town at her favorite Lower East Side watering holes. Today, that same route costs her between $35 and $50 each way.
“Years ago I’d pay the cost of a drink to get to my favorite bar. Now, I pay the cost of more than three drinks each way,” Beffa, a master’s degree student at NYU who also works in public relations, told The Post. “I’m spending $200 a weekend just on Uber.
“When the subway isn’t a safe option and Uber is, I have no choice but to pay the price or stay home. Given all the dangerous situations, it’s better safe than sorry,” Beffa said.
New Yorkers are fed up with forking over excessive amounts for Uber and Lyft rides, which skyrocketed during the pandemic as a result of a driver shortage, but have remained high even with more employees behind the wheel. Ride-share fares shot up 92% between January 2018 and July 2021, according to data from Rakuten Intelligence, and continue to climb. Back when Uber first became popular in 2013, fares were comparable to yellow cabs due to artificially lowered prices.
NYU Stern School of Business professor Arun Sundararajan said it was only a matter of time before consumers started paying more for their rides.
“Early on, Uber and Lyft were losing a lot of money to build market share. The price was too low relative to the economics, and that’s a common strategy. You have a ton of VC [venture capitalist] money and you’re burning it by buying customers — it was natural to expect prices would go up over time,” Sundararajan said. “There’s [now] a wide variety of surcharges and fees. I think part of the challenge here is the company set an expectation early on that things were always going to be cheap.”
A dearth of taxis is leading to fewer alternatives: The number of yellow cabs dropped from more than 10,000 per day prepandemic to just 982 in April 2020, and is now around 3,500 per day, according to city data. Last month, Uber said it would start listing yellow cabs on its app starting this summer amid its own driver shortage. The move could potentially lead to higher taxi fares as they move from standard per-mile pricing (with a small surcharge during rush hour) to a supply and demand model.
Critics say the sticker shock is unsustainable — and sometimes downright unethical.
On Tuesday, after the horrific subway shooting that injured at least 29 people, Uber and Lyft appeared to enact surge pricing — when strong demand causes fares to spike. There was an outcry from riders on social media — including Shannon McDonagh, who tweeted an image from the app appearing to show a $68.49 fare from Sunset Park to Long Island City. (An Uber spokeswoman told The Post the company put a “cap” on all prices, but wouldn’t specify amounts. The following day, the company agreed to refund riders who were charged surge pricing near the subway station in Brooklyn. Lyft also said it would adjust fares for customers who paid higher prices when the shooting occurred.)
Hours after the horrific subway shooting, Beffa opened the Uber app before meeting friends for dinner on the Upper East Side and nearly did a double take at the $42 charge to get 10 minutes uptown post-rush hour. She reluctantly took the subway instead.
“I was trying to avoid the subway because of the shooting but there was no way I was paying $42 for one way,” Beffa said. “Just getting somewhere can end up costing more than dinner.”
Josiah Teng, 26, an Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey-based therapist, was paying $40 to get from Fort Lee, NJ, to his office at 176th Street in the Bronx twice per week. Before the pandemic, Teng recalled shelling out $25 for a one-way commute, but noticed the cost slowly increase throughout 2020 to around $27. By 2022, he said the one-way ride shot up by 30% — to between $35 to $39 each way. But he had no choice.
“The price surge was gradual … I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s $50 by now,” Teng told The Post, noting that he is now able to work from home more frequently and is relieved to be saving nearly $80 on his daily office commute. Aside from travel, he’s still on the hook for leisure — visiting his significant other in Hoboken has also gone up from $18 prepandemic, to $22 mid-to-late 2020, to between $30 and $35 over the past four months. Lyft, he said, is $5 to $10 cheaper, but ultimately takes longer to hail than Uber.
“If it’s a matter of convenience, we just bite the bullet and use Uber,” Teng said, calling it an “immense frustration.”
“You just have to wonder if they’re [Uber] taking advantage of the situation and that’s a very icky feeling,” Teng said, adding that the violent attacks against individuals in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community have given many of his friends no choice but to pony up because they refuse to take the subway.
“A lot of my friends who are AAPI say they have no alternative — they’re willing to buy their safety.”
A spokesperson for Uber told The Post of the ongoing price hikes: “Over the past few years, we have seen a new $2.75 congestion surcharge from the MTA, an increase in the state-mandated black car fund surcharge and, most recently, a 5.3% mandated fare increase from the TLC [Taxi and Limousine Commission]. All of these fees result in higher prices for consumers.”
A New York City-based Uber driver who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity Wednesday has driven with the company for five years and said he was getting paid about $1.17 per mile and 50 cents per minute.
“Five years ago it was better because there were less drivers. Everything has to do with supply and demand,” the driver said, adding that they have to work more hours to compensate for higher gas prices. “They really don’t care about the drivers.”
As gas prices surged 18.3% for the month of March, Uber announced a temporary surcharge for US customers, not including New York City, of either 45 cents or 55 cents per trip, lasting for at least 60 days. Lyft riders faced 55-cent fees that would go to drivers as a result of rising gas prices. Uber and Lyft also raised their minimum pay rate for drivers by 5.3% in March after being mandated by the TLC.
Sergio Avedian, a Los Angeles-based Uber and Lyft driver, said he made $3,000 a week when he started in 2016, but now only drives up to 8 hours per week during rush hour, when he can make closer to $35 to $40 an hour.
“The reason I was making that much money was because the rates that the drivers got paid were almost more than double than what they are today. Drivers got paid $3.25 per mile. Fast-forward to 2022 and an Uber X driver gets paid 60 cents a mile. That’s why a lot of drivers quit,” said Avedian, who also contributes to the Rideshare Guy, a watchdog blog and podcast for Uber and Lyft drivers.
Beffa, meanwhile, isn’t happy at the thought of having to put her nightlife fun on ice to save money, noting: “New Yorkers shouldn’t have to choose between safety and bankruptcy.”