Uber briefly raised fares in Sydney to at least four times their normal rate as people in the city's Central Business District attempted to leave during the nearby hostage situation. Mashable reports that the minimum price for an Uber ride was raised to $100 at one point, after the service's "surge pricing" was activated in response to the high demand. Uber automatically activates surge pricing as demand rises, thus offering rides to those truly willing to pay for them and encouraging more drivers to get on the roads to pick people up. But the practice has frequently irritated consumers, particularly when it's been activated amid crises like this one.
Following Mashable's publication of the surge pricing rates, Uber dramatically reversed course. It now says that it will refund any passenger who emails them about using the higher rate to leave the CBD, and it's continuing to offer free rides to anyone leaving the area. "We are all concerned with the events happening in Sydney," Uber says in a blog post. Its response will certainly be helpful to anyone trying to leave Sydney's CBD, but it's hard to ignore that Uber seems to only be offering this in response to the negative attention around its initial surge pricing. Uber initially tweeted about the hostage situation at 9:35PM ET, saying that surge pricing had been activated to get more drivers out. At 10:15 PM ET, it changed course and stated that rides out of the area were free. It's no secret that surge pricing isn't well received, but with an automated system in play, it's bound to keep kicking in at inappropriate times.
We are all concerned with events in CBD. Fares have increased to encourage more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area.— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014
Uber Sydney trips from CBD will be free for riders. Higher rates are still in place to encourage drivers to get into the CBD.— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014