Contents:

8 min read

    8 min read

    Harry here.  Uber surge is always a hot topic with drivers since it can really increase your bottom line, but finding out when and where it occurs has always been a challenge.  Today, RSG contributor Jonathan Knope shows us how he was able to create a time lapse video of Uber surge in his hometown of Atlanta AND how you can do it too!

    Although it’s always tempting to chase surge zones while driving for Uber, it’s even better if you can predict those surge zones before they happen.  That way, you can wait until the Uber surge map is at its peak to log on or find a surging area that other drivers may not know about.  Uber sends out a lot of charts and graphs about best days and times to hit the road but they’re often based solely on passenger demand.  If there are a ton of drivers out at those times, you probably still won’t get any surge.

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    So while Uber’s data is helpful, it’s even better if you can see exactly when and where surge pricing is in effect. By capturing this data using time lapse screenshots, we can start to see trends – and figure out exactly where to drive to maximize our chances of catching surge fares. Check out the video below to learn about all of my findings here in Atlanta, as well as a complete set of instructions to record the surge map in your own city – or read on for the executive summary, along with clips of each time period I studied!

     

    Tracking Uber Surge Map Using Time Lapse Screenshots

    (h/t to RSG reader Ed for e-mailing us about this!  Ed, enjoy the RSG swag as a thanks.)

    How Does Surge Work?

    Surge isn’t just based on passenger demand – it’s also dependent on driver availability. If there’s a large number of drivers waiting for rides in a certain area, it won’t surge unless there’s an even larger number of passengers requesting rides. Likewise, if there are no drivers at all in an area, it may start surging after just a handful of ride requests.

    The specifics of the surge pricing algorithm are shrouded in corporate secrecy – but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a thing or two about when and where surge happens. All we have to do is look at the surge map. A lot.

    My Findings In Atlanta

    I know, not everyone lives in Atlanta… But I suspect that the surge trends seen here are applicable in other areas as well. If you want to find out for certain, check out the second half of the video above for step-by-step instructions on how to repeat this experiment in your own city.

    It’s worth noting that I didn’t come up with the idea of tracking surge prices – in fact,  it was one of our readers who first brought the idea to our attention (thanks, Ed!). In our research, we found an Uber user in NYC who tracked evening surge pricing in Manhattan, and published his findings on his blog. But we wanted more detail – even Uber’s own advice on when to drive often leaves a lot to be desired. With that in mind, I set out to make time lapses.

    Weekday Mornings: Underrated Driving Hours

    Here’s the first time period I captured. Weekday mornings are an underrated time for catching surge pricing – as you can see, the North side of the city is lit up like a Christmas tree between 6 and 9 AM.

    Here’s roughly the same time period on the following day – and it looks strikingly similar to Wednesday’s surge radar. The surge tends to be focused on the North side of the city again. Likely, these surges are from passengers who need rides to work or to the airport (Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport is the largest in the world). Combine that with the fact that few drivers are out working at the crack of dawn, and we see very healthy surges throughout the morning rush hour.

    It’s worth noting that, broadly speaking, the surge tends to be most prominent in affluent areas. There’s undoubtedly other factors at play as well – housing density definitely among them – but the correlation is too strong to overlook. If you’re trying to figure out where surge happens in your city, the first places I’d look to would be the pricier parts of town.

    Friday Night: A Mixed Bag

    Many drivers assume that party hours will make for huge surges – and that’s precisely why it doesn’t surge as much as you might expect. Although there are plenty of requests that come in each Friday, there are also plenty of drivers around ready to pick them up. Without a driver shortage, surge just doesn’t kick in.

    That doesn’t mean it doesn’t surge at all on Friday – you’ll note that in the early evening, pockets of surge are everywhere. But by 8:00 PM, the map gets very quiet. It hardly surges at all until around 11, when the event in the North sparks a big wave of requests.

    Big Events Surge Analysis

    If we study the event area in the North, we can see that it starts to surge around 11 pm but the peak period of surge occurs from around 11:40 pm to 11:55 pm.  The reason why this is important is because you’re most likely to get a nice long ride (~30 minutes) back into the city from here but if you take a ride around 11 pm when it’s only a 1.0x-2.0x surge, you could be missing out on a lot of income.  If you wait 45 minutes, you could hold out for a much higher surge (say 3.0x-4.0x) and make even more money while also putting less miles on your car.  But you have to know about when the peak surge is going to occur – this map should give you a good estimate.

    On the map, we can see there’s another small spike around 3:00 AM when the bars close.  You’ll also note that the suburbs are more active on Friday night than they were during the weekdays – although there aren’t a ton of requests coming from the suburbs, there are fewer drivers available out here.

    We also see the city of Decatur lighting up quite a bit throughout the evening. Decatur is home to Emory University, and I suspect these surge pockets are due to the college crowd headed out to party.

    Weekend Mornings: Surge Of Shame

    Weekend mornings are another underrated time to drive. These folks likely aren’t headed to work or the airport, though – most of them will be headed home after last night’s party. These are colloquially referred to as “rides of shame.”

    Unlike the Friday night revelers, these folks will be pretty easy to deal with, having (hopefully) sobered up since the party ended. In addition, there’s hardly any traffic on a Sunday morning, so you’ll be able to knock out lots of requests in a shorter amount of time. And with the surge kicking in pretty consistently, even past noon, it will definitely be worth your while – if you’re willing to get up early, that is!

    How To Capture Surge Data In Your City

    The basic principle of this process is really simple: Take a picture of the surge map every 30 seconds. The trick is getting your phone to do this automatically. I used a (free!) app called Automate, which allows you to create programs that run on your Android 5.0 or later. Automate is a powerful app with a ton of features, but the program I wrote with it is super simple: Check out the second half of my first video above for complete instructions on how to set up the screenshot program.

    The downside to my technique is that you won’t be able to use your phone during the recording process – since you’re taking screenshots of whatever’s on the screen, the surge map has to be open in order to capture it. Of course, your phone is still usable during the recording process – but if you start making lots of calls or sending lots of texts, you’ll end up with a bunch of pictures of your messaging app or call screen instead of the surge map!

    If you can stand to leave your phone alone with the map open for a few hours, you’ll end up with hundreds of pictures of surges in your city, and you can see exactly when and where it’s kicking in. You’ll need video editing software to make it animated like I’ve done here, but it’s not necessary if you’re just after the data: Simply transfer the pictures to your computer via USB, and flip through them on your PC to figure out where the surge hits.

    Final Thoughts

    This was a fun experiment, and gave me a much better understanding of when to go online to maximize my chances of catching surge fares here in Atlanta. I think my findings can be applied to other metro areas as well, although I’d love to see other people repeat this experiment and draw their own conclusions. If you’ve managed to replicate this process in your city, we’d jump at the chance to take a look at the images with you. I know transferring 300+ pictures is kind of a daunting task – I’d recommend uploading them to Dropbox or something similar, and then sending the link to me via email. I can be reached at: jon (at) therideshareguy.com.

    Drivers: Did you find this helpful? Do my findings match your experience in your city? Got another use for the Automate app? Let us know in the comments!

    -Jon @ RSG

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    Jonathan Knope

    Jonathan Knope

    Jonathan Knope is a freelance writer and rideshare driver hailing from Atlanta, GA. Over the past two years, he's worked for many of the big names in the rideshare industry, including Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Amazon Flex. Though he's an avid tech enthusiast, Jonathan also enjoys cycling and backpacking excursions.

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