London black cabs taking part in an anti-minicab protest on the Mall, in 2009. Photo: Getty Images.
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Uber is now integrated into Google Maps and the New York Subway

It's easier than ever to experience surge pricing.

Back in June, cabbies in cities including London, Berlin, Paris and Madrid went on strike to protest against Uber: a taxi firm-cum-social networking app that links smartphone users to private drivers. The cabbies said they were protesting against a dangerous lack of regulation; everyone else thought they were protesting the rise of a competitor.

That rise, though, has continued unimpeded, and over the last week, two things have happened to highlight it. The first is best summed up by this screenshot of Google Maps, taken from an Android phone:

Look at the last item on that list: ask for directions, and the map automatically offers you the option of taking an Uber car. Click that button, and it launches the app.

This is not perhaps as surprising as it seems - Google Ventures invested $258 million into Uber last year, in the largest such deal the internet giant has yet made. What's more, this functionality is not universal – if you don't have the app, you don't see the button, and our limited sample size shows it's not appearing on at least some iPhones yet, either. But it is, nonetheless, quite the win for a taxi firm to get itself integrated into the world's biggest mapping app. (Team-ups between taxi apps and transport apps are quite the zeitgeist at the moment: last week Hailo announced its integration into CityMapper, too.)

The other piece of news is rather less world-shaking – and may even highlight Uber's limitations. For the next five weeks, a section of the G train of the New York Subway, which links Brooklyn and Queens, will be closed for repairs. That means a two mile gap in the network, from Court Square to Nassau Avenue.

For commuters, this is a pain; for Uber, it’s an opportunity. The firm has released a promo code which geographically challenged New Yorkers can use to get one free ride to plug that gap. This is quite obviously not a long-term replacement for regular commuters – but it might encourage people to download the app and give Uber a whirl. Effectively, the firm is giving out free samples.

There is, however, a twist. The journey that the promo code covers is, Uber reckons, worth an average of $14. But the exact price of that fare will vary because of the firm’s use of “surge pricing”. At times, an Uber car can be very good value, but the more demand there is, the more expensive they become. To take account of this, the firm has given its voucher a value of up to $30.

But this, remember, is a journey of just 1.5 miles: you could walk it in half an hour. According to TaxiFareFinder.com, that should cost you about $9.41. What Uber is telling us is that its cars can sometimes cost three times as much as a yellow New York cab.

Uber claims that it's now cheaper than taxis – and, sometimes, it is. But at other times, it's a lot more expensive. This free sample may, paradoxically, remind everyone of this fact.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.

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Quiz: Can you identify fake news?

The furore around "fake" news shows no sign of abating. Can you spot what's real and what's not?

Hillary Clinton has spoken out today to warn about the fake news epidemic sweeping the world. Clinton went as far as to say that "lives are at risk" from fake news, the day after Pope Francis compared reading fake news to eating poop. (Side note: with real news like that, who needs the fake stuff?)

The sweeping distrust in fake news has caused some confusion, however, as many are unsure about how to actually tell the reals and the fakes apart. Short from seeing whether the logo will scratch off and asking the man from the market where he got it from, how can you really identify fake news? Take our test to see whether you have all the answers.

 

 

In all seriousness, many claim that identifying fake news is a simple matter of checking the source and disbelieving anything "too good to be true". Unfortunately, however, fake news outlets post real stories too, and real news outlets often slip up and publish the fakes. Use fact-checking websites like Snopes to really get to the bottom of a story, and always do a quick Google before you share anything. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.