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Uber and Lyft lovers, New Year's Eve prices may spike after midnight

Planning on using Uber or Lyft this New Year's Eve? Expect prices to soar after midnight.

Don't say you weren't warned. Uber and Lyft predict New Year's Eve will be their busiest night of the year. That means you can expect super-high prices for rides starting at midnight and continuing into the wee hours of 2015. 

Uber spread the word by posting on its blog and sending messages to customers Tuesday. It expects to provide rides to 2 million people around the world on New Year's Eve.

The company expects demand and what it calls surge pricing to be highest between 12:30 and 2:30 a.m. Thursday in all markets. In one message, it told customers that San Francisco fares could cost more than $100 a ride during those peak hours.

Lyft says it isn't sending out messages to customers but it too expects demand/pricing to be highest "after the ball drops until 2 or 3 a.m." Thursday, spokeswoman Paige Thelen says Tuesday.

Thelen also said the company's usual peak-time price increase is capped at 200% of the fare. But that cap has been raised to 400% for New Year's Eve. "So a $10 fare would be a $50 ride," she says.

How to avoid the painful prices?

First off, look carefully at the estimated cost; you'll always be given the price before you book it. If it's too high, hang out at the party a little longer and keep checking in to see when prices go down. (Uber has a "notify me if surge ends" button on its mobile app.)

Second, share the ride with others (friends or strangers), which you can do on Uber and Lyft apps.

Whether you think any of this is fair or not is another matter entirely.

Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik differentiates between Uber's surge pricing during, say, New Year's Eve, and surge pricing that happened during the recent Australian hostage situation (for which Uber was roundly criticized).

"The bigger problem faced by Uber and some of its rival services is that drivers may eventually recognize that they're paying the firms entirely too much for the services they're getting," Hiltzik writes.

And so I repeat: Happy New Year -- and don't say you weren't warned.

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