In part I of this morality tale I looked at some of the effects of Uber’s surge pricing. Uber raises prices when demand is high — Friday and Saturday nights, say, when a lot of people want to drink without worrying about driving or in the particular case I looked at, after the explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City (which did turn out to be a bomb, evidently) when a bunch of people in that neighborhood suddenly decided they very much wanted to be somewhere else.
When the price of a ride increases during a time of unusually high demand, there are two effects. Some drivers who might otherwise not drive will find it worthwhile to drive. And some riders who might otherwise have requested an Uber will choose not to. They will either postpone their trips or skip them altogether.
When Uber puts surge pricing in place on a Saturday night, say, two things happen. The first is that some drivers who otherwise might sit at home enjoying life now find it worthwhile to spend time picking up people and taking them where they want to go. The second is that some people who want a ride decide to either delay their trip for a bit or find an alternative way (taxi, bus, walk, friend) to get to their planned destination. Some will decide to cancel their trip when they see the cost of getting an Uber.
These effects are particularly important when there is danger that people wish to flee. Last night in New York City there was an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood. No one at the time knew for sure what the cause was or whether it was part of more general danger in the area. A lot of people wanted to get out of the area and get out quickly. Surge pricing encouraged drivers to face potential danger. It also signaled to potential passengers whose desire for a ride was not urgent to step aside and make room for those whose need was very urgent indeed. The beauty of prices is that these people do not have to know what is going on. The higher price sends them a message.