Cabbing Home From That New Year's Party? Expect To Pay A Premium

Planning on celebrating the New Year? If you are worried about driving home and plan to take a cab, you'll have plenty of competition. Cab fares soar during the first few hours of a new year, and then come back to normal around 3 a.m.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's the last night of the year, a big night for party-hopping and, of course, some bubbly. And that also means it's the biggest night of the year for cab companies. The surge in demand starts right after the clock strikes 12 and quickly outstrips supply. That mismatch can send prices soaring, depending on who's doing the driving. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports several ride services have come up with some solutions to try to manage the crunch.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Traffic is light this afternoon on Washington, D.C. streets. The idling cabbies I talked to declined to be interviewed and some said they're clocking out early to avoid this evening's crush. But it's still a big night for traditional cab services and their alternatives - companies like Uber, SideCar and Lyft - that consumers book through smartphone apps.

JOHN ZIMMER: We expect it to be our busiest night ever.

NOGUCHI: John Zimmer co-founded Lyft, a virtual carpool service that pays regular people in their own cars to drive passengers. On New Year's Eve, a ride may cost up to three times the normal amount. Zimmer plans to personally start giving people lifts at 6 p.m.

ZIMMER: And I'm going to be out there till about 3 a.m.

NOGUCHI: Sunil Paul is CEO of a competing service called SideCar, which operates in 10 cities. He says the company hopes to lure more drivers out tonight by moving to what it calls demand pricing. That allows drivers to charge up to three times the normal fare.

SUNIL PAUL: We calculate it based on the amount of time it'll take, the distance, as well as the amount of drivers and the amount of demand at the time.

NOGUCHI: Travis Kalanick is co-founder and CEO of Uber, a higher-end ride service operating in over 60 cities.

TRAVIS KALANICK: Almost every city in the world has the same behavior, same dynamics on New Year's Eve.

NOGUCHI: Uber does not cap its prices on New Year's Eve. But speaking on a video blog, Kalanick says the cost-conscious user can time their ride for when things are relatively quiet.

KALANICK: The ultra-pro tip is between 10:30 p.m. and about midnight. It's like crickets out there.

NOGUCHI: But as soon as the clock strikes midnight, he says, prices skyrocket. These new car services are only loosely regulated and, thus, allowed to set their own rates. But legacy cab companies answer to local commissions that set rates and rules.

Kurt Erickson notes that if price is an issue, there may be a cheaper option. Erickson is president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, which sponsors a program called SoberRide in the Washington, D.C. metro area. In many cities, non-profits like his contract with cab companies to offer free rides to passengers within a limited range.

KURT ERICKSON: Noting that the call is free, the service is free, and that we offer this until 6 a.m. on New Year's Day, I can't think of a single excuse somebody could muster in possibly getting behind the wheel of a car impaired.

NOGUCHI: SoberRide expects to pay for more than 600 free cab rides between tonight and the dawn of the New Year. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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