I’ve never used Uber, but I am familiar with it. They’ve had their fair share of issues related to their “surge” pricing, where the price of a ride can double, triple, or even quadruple depending on demand. But their response to their surge pricing during the hostage situation in Sydney, Australia showed Uber’s true attitude towards the communities they claim to serve.
Here’s what happened: as a result of the hostage crisis in Sydney, people were looking to leave the area. Public transit was shut down, and no one wanted people hanging around near an active hostage situation. According to The Consumerist, Uber’s surge pricing kicked in, charging 4x the normal rate with a MINIMUM ride of $100 to leave the area. Worst of all, the company claimed this was out of concern for the people of Sydney, because if drivers were being paid more they would show up faster. After a huge social media backlash, Uber began offering refunds and free rides, apparently realizing fleecing people during a terrorism incident looks really, really insensitive.
At the heart of the matter, this is what bothers me about Uber. They want a free market, no-regulations situation, and they claim it will level the playing field, make everything cheaper and more transparent, and allow for easier transportation for all. And they say surge pricing is designed to encourage drivers during especially busy times and when it may be riskier to be on the road (ie during a snowstorm or weather incident). I have no problem with the concept of prices going up when there’s more demand; that makes sense, and it’s not so different from early bird special pricing versus regular dinner prices, or a matinée versus an evening show. My problem is that Uber seems to think that logic extends to a situation where public transit is shut down by law enforcement, there’s hostages in a busy cafe, and people are desperate to leave the area. It smacks heavily of price gouging, and quite frankly their tweet of ‘Good news, we’re charging you 4x the normal rate to incentivize someone to come get you’ [paraphrased, of course] doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy about the company. It certainly makes me think they don’t actually care about the safety of anyone in the community.
Terror attacks are not everyday occurrences (hopefully), especially not on the level of 19-hour standoffs with an armed gunman. If Uber wants to charge extra for a busy Saturday night, or if they feel the risk of a driver in a snowstorm deserves a slightly higher cost, I can see the arguments there. I may not agree with their pricing, but I can understand the logic. But this is a highly unusual situation, and if Uber wanted to get drivers out there, why not announce the company is paying a bonus directly to drivers to make up for the free rides? This could have been a public relations win for Uber if they had offered something like that; they’d have looked like heroes to the people of Sydney, and the drivers would know that Uber values their work. Instead, Uber saw this rightfully blow up in their faces, as they drove prices to an insane level and passed along 100% of that cost to people fleeing the scene of a crime. I can’t even fathom how they thought that tweet was a good idea, or how it took them more than 30 seconds to realize how awful their response sounded.
It does tell me a great deal about the culture of Uber, and that they clearly don’t care about the communities or customers. I was already uncomfortable with Uber given their less than stellar reputation towards women and women’s safety in their cars, and now that poor opinion has crystalized into full on dislike.
I asked a few others at Gear Diary what they thought, and here was the simple, but succinct, feedback:
Judie: It was unconscionable.
Mike Anderson: Basically I had been pretty out of touch with the whole thing up until that moment…which told me all I needed to know.
Travis: From What I’ve seen from Uber they are not a smart company. This backs it up. Kind of like price gouging at gas stations when a hurricane is coming.
Joel: Surge pricing is a money grab — terrorist event or not. Think about it: they increase the pricing when they have an increase in demands, so they make EVEN MORE money. If anything, I would expect a little decrease when they are busy as they are likely going to have worse service, while STILL making tons of money.
Sounds like no one from Gear Diary will be using Uber anytime soon!