By Heather Somerville
San Jose Mercury News.
SAN JOSE, Calif.
After the clock strikes midnight, the champagne is popped and verses of “Auld Lang Syne” are sung with the slur of too many libations, for millions of people on New Year’s Eve there will be only one thing left to do, order an Uber or Lyft for the drive home.Wednesday into Thursday is expected to be the busiest 24 hours ever for these car-service companies, which use a smartphone app to connect passengers with drivers, and in the last year have grown into international transportation monoliths.
Uber and Lyft drivers will flood the streets of cities such as San Francisco and jack up fares five-times the normal rate, or more, and both companies expect to gain thousands of new customers who will chose the app over a taxi or subway ride.Uber alone stands to make about $100 million ferrying an estimated 2 million passengers worldwide on New Year’s Eve.
But New Year’s Eve will also test both companies’ ability to provide millions of people with safe transportation on a night famed for debauchery. Uber and Lyft each have tens of thousands more customers and drivers than in 2013, and operate in many more cities. They are bulking up their workforce, recruiting new drivers who may never before have driven home a drunk stranger and encouraging out-of-town drivers to come into congested areas like San Francisco’s Mission District, where they may not know their way around. Add to that swarms of pedestrians, broken champagne bottles in the streets and drunk drivers, and hazards lurk everywhere, according to interviews with analysts, drivers and academics who study the companies.
Spokeswomen for Uber and Lyft said the companies do not provide any extra training for drivers to prepare for New Year’s, but drivers are receiving messages through the app reminding them of safety precautions and traffic issues. And both companies maintain that they help keep New Year’s safer by reducing the number of drunk drivers.