Uber Offers Free Rides After Surge Pricing Debacle During Siege in Sydney
I n response to what is arguably its most controversial snafu yet, Uber will offer free rides out of the central business district in Sydney starting today as a result of the aftermath of criticism for charging its passengers greater than quadruple the typical rate — in a practice known as surge pricing — while a siege was underway at the Lindt Chocolat Café at Martin Place, causing the city to be in lockdown mode.
The company is reportedly also in the process of issuing refunds to those customers who were affected by the surge pricing, which is still in effect for rides into the central business district in Sydney to “encourage drivers to get into” there.
I first reported on the practice of surge pricing by Uber back on January 4, 2014, asking if surge pricing by Uber is unfairly expensive:
To me, it is obvious that Uber could not get away with charging surge pricing at peak times if customers did not pay for it…
…especially if those customers do not have to wait out in the rain for 45 minutes hailing a cab when all the customers have to do is summon a car operated by Uber on their personal electronic devices — and the nearest available driver will be dispatched to your current location in order to ensure the quickest response.
Also, surge pricing supposedly gets more vehicles on the road when demand outpaces the number of drivers, which ultimately increases the reliability of the service offered by Uber. Getting more vehicles on the road is not as easy for a typical taxi company or a car livery service.
There is a debate as to whether or not surge pricing should apply during and after an emergency — such as a natural disaster, for example. As long as the pricing is not considered gouging, Uber should be able the charge more to cover additional costs without taking advantage of people, in my opinion.
I still have yet to be a passenger in a vehicle operated by Uber — but I rarely use taxi cabs and car services anyway.
The beleaguered private car hire company has been criticized for implementing its surge pricing during inappropriate times; as well as engaging in other controversial actions. For example, Sam Frizell wrote this article for Time magazine last month about the seven “dead-serious Uber controversies” which somehow did not “sink the company” — including sabotaging Lyft, its main competitor; poaching drivers from Lyft; disrupting established taxi services; and arrests of at least four of its drivers ranging from abductions to hitting the passenger on the head with a hammer. A rival car service — Gett — had accused Uber of “foul play” in New York. One passenger reportedly sued Uber as the result of an alleged sexual assault which occurred earlier this year.
According to this article written by Ben Grubb — who is the digital technology editor of The Sydney Morning Herald — “some users reported a minimum of $100 being charged by the app as the siege unfolded. The increase in cost is based on a computer algorithm and not determined by staff.”
Although many weblogs at BoardingArea have in the past extolled the virtues of Uber, that has not automatically been the case recently. This article at Michael W Travels… cautioned about surge pricing by Uber on Halloween and gives advice on how to deal with it; but that is of little use and comfort to those people who were attempting to escape a dangerous situation in Sydney. Only yesterday, Michael W posted this article about a woman who passed out and was allegedly charged $293.00 for a ride whose length is fewer than five miles. Ric Garrido wondered whether or not he should be afraid of Uber. “Is it immoral to be Uber?” asked this article posted at ThePointsOfLife.
Traditional taxi companies are not going down without a fight — especially in the wake of the recent public relations missteps of Uber. Seth Miller of The Wandering Aramean reported in this article that the strategy of legacy companies in New York to beat Uber are by — get this — raising rates.
As for the siege itself, it ended with gunfire once police stormed the café after the standoff lasted for 16 hours — but not before three people were dead, as two hostages and a gunman were killed.
“The gunman was identified as Man Haron Monis, 50, an Iranian-born, self-proclaimed Muslim cleric with a lengthy criminal record who had been free on bail”, according to this article written by John Bacon and Sandra Lee for USA TODAY.
The two hostages who were killed were Katrina Dawson, 38, a mother of three young children and a lawyer; and Tori Johnson, 34, who was the manager of the café.
People who used Uber to escape the area where the siege occurred encountered the surge pricing which went into effect, resulting in outrage and igniting the latest controversy.
Although it is possible that the surge pricing automatically went into effect and that it was not intentional on the part of Uber, I could not even fathom taking advantage of people in an emergency situation…