Ride-sharing company Uber has issued a lengthy apology after introducing surge pricing during the Sydney siege, with the cost to leave the city skyrocketing to four times the normal fare.
The central business district of Sydney went into lockdown on Dec. 15 as a crazed gunman held 17 people hostage in the Lindt Cafe. Office workers were advised to leave the area if it was safe to do so. This caused Uber's automated surge pricing to kick in due to the high volume of requests for taxis out of the city, which the company initially attempted to justify in a tweet.
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
Fares to some areas outside the city rose to more than A$100, while a trip to the airport was costing up to A$184 during peak time — at least A$100 more than the regular fare.
After HDT published a story about the customer outrage at the price hikes, Uber announced all trips from the area would be free and anyone who had been charged the higher amount would receive a refund.
Uber rides out of the CBD today are free for all riders to help Sydneysiders get home safely. See http://t.co/UIwoom25Bm for more info.— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014
On Wednesday, more than a week after the devastating siege, in which two people and the gunman were killed, Uber released a six-paragraph statement saying the company is "truly sorry" about the actions during the crisis in Sydney.
"Our priority was to help get as many people out of the CBD safely in the midst of a fast-moving event. The decisions we made were based only on helping to achieve this but we communicated this poorly, leading to a lot of misunderstanding about our motivations," General Manager of Uber Australia, David Rohrsheim, wrote in the statement.
The company did not stop surge pricing immediately, as they wanted to urge drivers to go to the city.
"Surge pricing is algorithmic and kicks in automatically when demand for rides outstrips the supply of cars that are on the road. This encourages more drivers to the area where people are requesting rides," the statement said.
Uber now admits "this was the wrong decision" and they will look at standardising a global policy to ensure a similar event doesn't occur in another emergency situation. In July, Uber announced a cap will be placed on price surging during emergency situations and natural disasters across the United States. It is unclear if this policy will be rolled out in Australia.
"It's unfortunate that the perception is that Uber did something against the interests of the public," the statement continued. "We certainly did not intend to. We will learn from this incident and improve as a result of this lesson. Uber is committed to ensuring users have a reliable ride when they need it most — including and especially during disasters and relevant states of emergency."
"Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims' families, those that were injured and the Sydney community of which we are so proud to be a part."
Tags: APPS AND SOFTWARE, AUSTRALIA, SYDNEY SIEGE, UBER, US & World