02/24/2014 02:20 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2014

Uber CEO: New Surge Pricing Feature "Brings Humanity" to Car Service App

by Nishat Kurwa (@nishatjaan)

The online car service Uber will offer a new feature that gives users an option to reject controversial surge pricing until prices decline.

CEO Travis Kalanick, who was the keynote interview this morning at the first day of the Launch Festival in SF, told interviewer Jason Calacanis the company wants to "bring humanity" to the app, in part by introducing the new feature.

Surge pricing has raised customer hackles, especially during high demand (and possibly, high drunkenness) periods like New Year's Eve.

Of course, customers could just opt to take a cab, but this feature will keep them checking on Uber for a price decline that may come within a few minutes, and may also serve to reduce their anger simply by offering more options on the most contentious aspect of the app. "You never get surge totally right," acknowledged Kalanick.

The beginning of the keynote was accompanied by drumming and air horns of protesters outside the venue, and Kalanick wasn't able to concentrate on some of the initial softball questions from Calacanis about his first few ventures.

"I have a hard time with a lot of noise," he apologized when he lost his train of thought, "but I'll do the best I can. Shoot."

Calacanis told the crowd that the protesters were upset because of six AV technician positions that hadn't gone to unions -- but then sent his employees out to offer them the $6k those jobs represented, in exchange for stopping the noise. "I'll pay them!," joked Kalanick.

They only seemed to get louder, and continued protesting throughout the panel.

Kalanick folded the protest in to his comments about Uber, saying, "You step back and you say, 'What's the context? Is all forms of civil disobedience good?' For (Uber) it matters when it's done for the right principles."

Presumably, he was suggesting that Uber represents a kind of civil disobedience in its disruption of entrenched taxi monopolies.

He said that in some cities, the taxi drivers' unions protest on Uber's behalf.

Public media's covers tech and digital culture from the West Coast.