How to get around on New Year’s and maybe avoid surge pricing

As I noted in Gigaom’s 2014 roundup, this has been the year of the Uber. The company has expanded across the globe and convinced investors far and wide to chuck billions of dollars behind it.

Fittingly, 2014 also heralded Uber’s year of disillusionment. As its reach and power grew, all of a sudden people started worrying about Uber, the company: Its culture, its operational systems, its values. Some decided to stop using Uber to protest  its treatment of drivers, its hypothetical threats against journalists, and its flouting of regulations. Others just got pissed about surge pricing.

But there’s a fast approaching day of year where such high-minded moral decisions will be confronted by tough practical problems: New Year’s Eve. If there’s any point in the year where your anti-Uber resolution might crumble, it’s as you battle other determined party-goers on December 31st.

But have hope. Uber may be the oldest, biggest, and most powerful next-generation transportation networking company, but it’s certainly not the only one.

Uber-for-taxis

Yellow taxi sign at night1) Flywheel: Transportation’s best kept secret. It’s an app that works exactly the same as Uber, allowing you to see how far away the closest car is, request it through the app, and watch it creep ever closer to you. Flywheel has partnered with a myriad of cab companies in different cities, so its supply is almost as plentiful as Uber. The demand for the service, however, is far less since many people don’t know about it or haven’t gotten in the habit of using it. Best part: No surge pricing. In San Francisco, it’s actually offering a $10 flat fare for New Years. Cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle

2) Curb: Another taxi app like Flywheel, but with less taxi companies on it in the Bay Area. It’s in far more places in the US than Flywheel though, so if you’re not an SF resident it could be your saving grace. Cities: 60 cities across America, from Orlando, Florida to Tucson, Arizona.

Car parking apps

3) ZIRX: This is a car parking app. Before you freak out at the idea of paying exorbitant New Years parking garage fees, or having to stay sober, hear me out. ZIRX charges $5 an hour and maxes out at $15. Just like with the Uber app, you drop a pin to tell the ZIRX attendant where to pick up your car, so if you want to hop out right in front of your venue in the middle of Union Square, they’ll be there. When you’re ready to go home you can tell them to meet you anywhere, so if you’ve party hopped over to the Marina, no problem and no extra cost to get your car dropped off there. Here’s the real kicker: If you want to get your drink on and can’t drive home? ZIRX only charges $15 for overnight parking. Cities: San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles.

4) Luxe: It’s very similar to ZIRX and same pricing, but Luxe doesn’t yet do overnight parking, meaning you’ll either need to stay sober or cough up the $50 overnight parking fee. On the upside, Luxe is the tech industry favorite, beloved by both Wall Street Journal and New York Times reporters, so you’re likely to have a good experience. Cities: San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Uber’s archrivals

A Post-Taxi Population Opts For Ride-sharing

5) Sidecar: The obvious alternatives to Uber are, of course, its arch rivals. I’m in Camp Sidecar, if only because there’s no surge pricing — drivers set their own rates and you can pick from the list. That helps mitigate surge pricing hangover, although if the drivers are smart they’ll probably be bumping up their fare that night. Sidecar, however, has far less cars than Uber or Lyft so it can be hard to nab one when it’s busy. Cities: 10 cities in the States, mostly big urban areas like Boston and Charlotte, North Carolina.

6) Lyft: Lyft is another option, one that’s nearly as reliable as Uber without quite as many ethical problems. But look out for “prime time tips,” Lyft’s version of surge pricing. Cities: Too many to count, but it’s worth noting New York City is in it (unlike most of the other apps on this list). Check here.

The old school choice

7) Public transit: It may not be hip, but on New Years it’s bound to be cheap and reliable. In a lot of cities around the world, public transportation agencies are running transit for free, extending their regular hours, or adding more units to carry people. For the SF goers, BART is running until 3 am on New Years. Since most people in their heels and fancy clothes don’t even think to tap public transit, in some places the buses and subways may well be both free and empty.

Smart transportation: the disruptor-broker model

Here are a couple of low- and high-end examples of how real-time data is being applied to disrupt the public transportation sector:

  • As today’s Boston Globe reports, there is a “Data-driven pop-up bus service set to roll out”. When a critical mass of customers is ready for a ride, Bridj will dispatch other bus companies luxury buses to provide point-to-point service within the Boston metro area. The pricing, at $5, is higher than the $2 cost of a subway ride, but less than the $9 that one customer is quoted as otherwise paying for the Uber crowd-sourced taxi alternative.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, Evo-Lux finds and makes markets between excess helicopter capacity and shared-ride customers. The firm refers to its service as a “sky-limo”. Like Bridj, Evo-Lux is focused on providing a more comfortable and efficient ride for customers in congested metro markets, although Evo-Lux also provides transport outward to popular get-away locations.

In both cases, the disruptor is something of a broker, matching excess capacity to a small aggregation of customers with a commonality of temporal and locational need. A membership structure helps the company to identify transportation matches, and the result is a lower price than would be available for a fully private ride.

No longer just for kids: Wheelz competes for SF car-sharing territory

Originally just targeted at college kids, Wheelz is expanding its peer-to-peer car sharing to San Francisco. While the city already has a plethora of sharing-centric, eco-based transportation options, the folks at Wheelz think they can make serious inroads with their approach.

Where to watch Carmageddon live online

Los Angeles will close down its 405 freeway this weekend, and the fact that the event is officially called Carmageddon hints at how much traffic the city is expecting. The best plan is likely to just stay home and watch the traffic live online.

Today in Cleantech

Cities are at the heart of the world’s social and environmental challenges, so it’s nice to see the World Bank and mayors of the world’s biggest cities getting together to figure out a way to put financial innovation to work to solve those challenges. That’s the gist of an agreement signed yesterday at the C40 large cities climate meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil, aimed at smoothing the path for financing city-wide climate change reduction projects. Reducing carbon emissions, pollution and waste is necessarily a holistic process, and cities tie together multiple entities — public transportation and traffic planning, electric and gas and water utility services, waste collection and recycling, and a host of departments with their own physical plant and workforce to manage more efficiently — that can coordinate efficiency improvements in a way individual private sector actors can’t. But when it comes to paying for it, cities need a common set of measures and standards to assess just what bang for the buck they’re getting out of these complicated, cross-departmental projects. That’s one of the key goals of the new World Bank-C40 agreement, and it could apply to “smart city” projects that use IT and networking to link city departments and city residents in energy and resource-saving projects as well. After all, the technology is at hand to help cities engage in “smart city” projects, but business models for delivering the technology aren’t as easy to figure out.