Uber Upfront Pricing Scam

UPDATE : Parts of the blogpost were reproduced in Hindu Business blog along with commentary on other issues related to Ola / Uber. An Uber engineer from my extended social network pinged me on Facebook and said will check on this, but there has been no official response from Uber / further update from the engineer.

Uber and Ola have been under severe criticism for its surge pricing. While the “surge” is still present in the fares, Uber stopped showing the surge multiplier instead started showing “upfront” ride estimates.

Upfront Pricing

The upfront pricing fares are final, irrespective of the actual distance / time taken to reach the destination. But, if it takes longer / more km than the original estimate (the exact address might be a km away), you will be charged “actual” charge which would be slightly more than the upfront estimate depending on the extra miles / extra ride time. But in case you get off en route / reach early because of less traffic, the upfront fares are fixed and Uber pockets off it as its profit. Fair enough. But what happens if the estimate goes horribly wrong? When I pointed out exactly (how their system was buggy and estimates were way off), how the estimate was grossly wrong, all I got was a template response.

Thanks for reaching out. When you request an Uber, the price displayed in the app at the beginning of the trip is the fare you’ll be charged for the ride, no matter what. These fares are calculated dynamically, based on your pickup and drop off locations. Please note that your upfront price includes any applicable surge pricing in effect when demand is high.

Thanks for taking the time to share your feedback. As we work to improve this pricing system on Uber for everyone, we appreciate hearing your perspective.

Uber’s upfront pricing went wrong because it chose the “best” (combination of distance + time estimates, google mostly prefers fastest route even if its few miles extra) route returned by Google Maps. Anyone who has driven in Indian cities know that the navigation ETAs are rarely close to perfection. (They are getting better, but still have a huge margin to cover). When multiple routes exist, its best to ask the person in the signal than trusting the app as to which one would be better route.

So below is the estimate for Perungalathur to a Express Avenue in City side. Google maps wants to use the Chennai Bypass as that would reach the destination 8 minutes earlier, even if its 6 km longer. Even someone without knowledge of the city, would override this suggestion and no taxi driver would take you through this route. So with upfront pricing, be ready to pay up for what you have not traveled.

Uber Fare estimate for Perungalathur – Express Avenue.
Google Maps Navigation from Perungalathur – Express Avenue using Chennai Bypass
Google Maps Navigation from Perungalathur – Express Avenue using GST Road










Route Distance (km) Time (mins) Base Fare Distance charge (6/km) Time charge (1/min) Distance Surcharge (8/km after 20 km) Total Fare
Chennai Bypass 34 58 30 204 58 112 404  + 20(Toll)
GST Road 28 66 30 168 66 64 328

Fare estimate as per current Chennai UberGO rates. The estimate was performed when surge was not set and was verified for a different destination. When the demand is high, the surge multiplier applies(hidden now) on top of this fare calculation and appears as the estimate.

As we can see, the estimates was using the “best” route by Google maps navigation which was suggesting to travel 6 km more for estimated time saving of 8 minutes.

Uber / Uber_Chennai : Unless you fix(acknowledge first) the bug (let rider / driver choose the route for estimating fares | give back Uber credits if actual fare < upfront fare), no one from Perungalathur / Tambaram and close by areas will find your fares reasonable and you are always on surge because Google maps routes you through bypass. I would be “uber conscious” booking Uber because “hey you are buggy”. Thanks.

I called it scam because, we know you are looting and ignoring the feedback with canned responses. Next time, have a look at Google maps before booking an Uber / Ola, better use the taxi button on Google maps which would show you Ola as well with price / availability. Its also good to check around before fully relying on navigation systems.

Comments 2

  • Good observation. Similar incident happened to me from Anna Nagar West to US Consulate on Sep 2, morning 9 AM, after heavy rains on Sep 1 night. The trip fare was 315 and ETA with 58 mins. But as per any calculation the ride cost may not cause 160. When I wrote to support, first I received templated response and then link to uber help page.

  • Exactly this is what I have been complaining about. I mailed about this to Uber but they don’t seem to care. They always provide the same set of reply.

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