In this photo illustration the Uber logo is displayed on a phone in front of Tower Bridge on November 25, 2019 in London, England.

Peter Summers | Getty Images

LONDON — Hailing a ride on apps like Uber and Bolt is now almost impossible at certain times of the day in parts of the U.K.

Multiple customers told CNBC that the apps failed to connect them to a driver in recent weeks, resulting in them being late for meetings or stranded at the end of a night out.

Others said they’ve encountered extortionate costs as a result of “surge pricing,” which kicks in when the apps are particularly busy. The problems tend to occur late evening or at the weekend, according to customers.

The issue boils down to supply and demand. In other words, there aren’t enough drivers to accept all the journeys being requested. And it has sent prices rising.

Markus Villig, co-founder and CEO of mobility app Bolt, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” last week that prices for customers are “higher than ever.”

Villig, whose company is valued at 4 billion euros ($4.7 billion), said post-lockdown demand for ride-hailing had rebounded stronger and faster than the company anticipated.

“The supply side in terms of drivers … just haven’t been able to catch up yet,” he said.

Uber is having the same problem. It told CNBC that demand has increased in the U.K. while Uber’s U.K. business returned to pre-pandemic levels in May and that many cities now have demand beyond the pre-pandemic levels. Demand is 22% higher in Birmingham, 30% higher in Sheffield and over 40% higher in Nottingham than before March 2020.

“We are encouraging 20,000 new drivers to sign up in order to meet rider demand as cities get moving again,” a spokesperson for Uber’s U.K. business said.

Difficulties getting a ride

Robert Collings, head of finance at fintech start-up Flux, told CNBC that Uber and Bolt had let him down in London recently.

“People should be able to hail a ride and be on their way within minutes, but more recently I’ve been experiencing long wait times and cancellations, to the point where I start looking at alternatives,” he said.

He shared a recent example of trying to get an Uber at 1 a.m. on a weekday. Multiple drivers accepted and then canceled the ride, he said, with the quoted price rising from £11 to £28 in the meantime. He then switched to Bolt and faced the similar cancellation issues before a driver eventually turned up.

“I was probably only waiting for about 15-20 minutes between first opening the app and getting in the car, but that feels much longer when you just want to get home and sleep,” Collings said.

Elsewhere, London-based Dave Thomson, chief product officer at video conferencing platform Whereby, told CNBC that he and his wife now check Uber, Bolt and FreeNow to increase their chances of finding a ride.

“[We] open all three apps at the same time and see who can get a cab first,” he said. “The level of admin involved in leaving the house is growing.”

The issues aren’t confined to the U.K., with customers in cities like Lisbon, Paris, Warsaw and Melbourne also complaining.

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