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Uber Surges Prices During Sydney Hostage Crisis; Offers Free Rides Amid Backlash

Uber Surges Prices During Sydney Hostage Crisis; Offers Free Rides Amid Backlash

by Clay Michael GillespieDecember 17, 2014

During the recent Sydney hostage crisis in Australia, one company may have profited off of the panic of potential customers trying to flee to safety. That’s right, while a hostile hostage situation unfolded and hostages tried to escape, Uber’s taxi service raised prices for rides to almost $100 AUD ($82 USD) for rides.

Reports of gunshots frightened the streets of Sydney. Man Haron Monis is an Iranian man known for sending hate mail to the families of fallen soldiers who was apprehended once police stormed the building with automatic weapons and flash grenades to save the unknown number of hostages. At one point prior to police intervention, five hostages escaped, sending the unidentified gunman into a frenzy.

As the Washington Post covered the story, Uber charged $100 a ride to “escape.” While the sentiment seems a bit harsh, it does seem as though someone at Uber Sydney does have to initiate surge-pricing somewhat manually; it doesn’t seem to be a pre-planned, automated event.

Surge-pricing encourages more Uber drivers to get on the road and pick up rides as the drivers know they’ll profit more during those times. Unfortunately, it’s proven to not be a good tool to use in a crisis from a public relations standpoint.

Within an hour of initiating the surge pricing, Uber retracted the decision. Katie Curran, an Uber spokesperson, spoke with the Washington Post and released a statement amidst the backlash:

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.

Uber also wrote a blog post and tweeted that riders who were subjected to surge pricing could get a refund on a transaction by emailing [email protected]

Uber Experiences Even More Public Relations Nightmares

Uber Sydney Hostage HackedIn 2012, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman criticized Uber for practicing their surge pricing techniques during the Hurricane Sandy crisis. Uber announced this past summer that it would make sure to cap prices during emergency situations, but it seems to not be practicing that in full effect just yet.

Prior to that, Uber’s SVP of business, Emil Michael, was quoted saying that he believed Uber should investigate and smear journalists due to the negative image the company received. He was targeting a single editor, trying to expose any dirty laundry she had hidden away in her personal life for criticizing the company.

The sentiment was met with overwhelming backlash, so Uber decided to apologize. Unfortunately, the apology was not through Michael himself, but a public relations employee. The statement was released through an Uber spokeswoman, saying the following:

The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner — borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for — do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.

Now the company is facing yet another public relations disaster and hoping that free rides and refunds can fix the damage to the Sydney community.

Images from Shutterstock.

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  • Alex Gorale

    Price Gouging saves lives.

    After or during a disaster high prices is one of the only reasons a business has to continue to operate. If prices are forced to artificially low prices you create a run on the market. E.g. a $.50 bottle of water during a crisis is probably worth $5.00.

    If I get to the market first I am going to buy all the water. I would rather have more than not enough. This prevents other people from having access to the commodity. In Uber’s case, the supply of driver’s is fixed. The demand rises during a disaster. Also, the supply is lowered because people are tending to their emergency.

    The people who remain in service during an emergency deserve to set the price for their good or service just like anyone else.