Uber Realizes Charging Surge Prices During Sydney Hostage Situation Isn’t A Great Idea, Offers Free Rides

Uber's first take on the hostage situation? Surge pricing.

Uber’s first take on the hostage situation? Surge pricing.

As of Monday morning, there is a hostage situation in Sydney, Australia, where a suspect has been in a standoff with police since Sunday morning, holding a reported 13 or so people hostage inside a cafe in the city’s central business district. And while others in the area tried to flee from the scene as quickly as possible yesterday, Uber customers were finding $100 minimum charges and up to 4x surge prices to get a ride somewhere safer.

Mashable reports that Uber charged higher fares briefly yesterday at the height of the rush to get out of the CBD, before quickly backtracking upon realizing from the outcry on social media from upset consumers that charging people astronomically high fares in the face of danger is not cool, speaking human to human.

At first, Uber confirmed this decision to use surge pricing on its Twitter account:

The company also issued a statement to that end:

We are all concerned with the events happening in Sydney.
UberBLACK and uberX provide additional options above and beyond the existing transport services.
Fares automatically increase when demand exceeds available supply, to encourage more drivers to come online or leave other suburbs to come pick up passengers in areas of high demand. We are keeping partners advised about road closures.
Uber will not charge a commission on any rides out of the CBD today with 100% of every fare picking up from CBD going to drivers getting people home safely.
We are following this process:
– Uber’s pricing algorithms will be capped during disasters and relevant states of emergency.
– For each market, the state of emergency price will be set after excluding the 3 highest-priced, non-emergency days of the preceding 2 months.
“This policy intends to strike the careful balance between the goal of transportation availability with community expectations of affordability during disasters.” Travis Kalanick, CEO

Cue the social media backlash — people were not happy:

Accordingly, Uber changed its tune, and offered free rides to anyone trying to get away from the area of the standoff, and said it would refund all the rides for those people who had already been charged surge pricing or high minimum fares.:

The company issued an updated statement to that end:

We are all concerned with the events happening in Sydney.
Uber Sydney will be providing free rides out of the CBD to help Sydneysiders get home safely.
Our thoughts are with those affected and the NSW Police Force.
We are in the process of refunding rides. If you have been charged during these hours leaving the CBD please email supportsydney@uber.com.
Please note that surge pricing only remains in place to encourage more drivers to come online and pick up passengers from the area.
Updates will follow on Twitter – @Uber_Sydney

In other bad news for Uber, France announced today that it’s banning the company’s lowest-tiered ride-sharing service called UberPop, reports the Wall Street Journal, with the government saying it won’t allow Uber to use drivers that don’t have professional licenses, as it’s “illegal.”

A new law that comes into effect on January 1 will impose stiff penalties for operating a service with such drivers.

“Passengers still don’t know that it isn’t a legal car service, and drivers don’t understand the risks they’re running, such as fines or the seizure of their vehicles,” said Pierre-Henry Brandet, a spokesman for the French interior ministry.

Uber intros surge pricing during Sydney hostage siege, then backtracks after user outcry [Mashable]