(Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo)

Uber defends itself against critics of surge pricing during Bay Area storm

As if Uber hasn't been drowned in enough controversy lately with lawsuits from the San Francisco and Los Angeles district attorney's offices, a campaign by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association on Friday claimed the mobile-app-based ride service broke its word when it implemented surge pricing during Thursday's “stormageddon” in the Bay Area.

Uber customers took to Twitter on Thursday morning amid the biggest storm to hit the region in five years to complain that Uber was charging 3.8 times its normal fare rates.

But besides that high rate, Uber went against its own national policy instituted last summer, said Dave Sutton, a spokesman for the national transit association's “Who's Driving You” campaign. He referenced a blog post by Uber spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian on July 8 announcing the ride service was instituting a policy on surge pricing for U.S. cities.

The policy included two bullet points:

-“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.”

Sutton admitted that description was “too complicated for me to understand,” but that Thursday's storm inconvenienced many residents and should have qualified for Uber's disaster surge pricing waiver.

“The company announced its policy in the summer and a lot of people in the West Coast probably weren't paying attention,” Sutton said. “But when a storm actually hits, they're making money off it, which they promised they wouldn't do. It's a repeat pattern of deception. This is what [San Francisco] District Attorney George Gascón is talking about.”

The San Francisco and Los Angeles district attorney's offices on Tuesday filed a complaint against Uber for alleged unlawful business practices that included a $4 surcharge for trips to and from San Francisco International Airport that was never paid to the airport.

The ride service detailed the policy in the blog focused on unveiling a partnership with the American Red Cross that took effect before Hurricane Arthur developed in the East Coast, and stated it is committed to donating commissions on surge trips to the charity “during disasters and relevant states of emergency.” Specifically, during those instances Uber excludes the three highest-priced, non-emergency days in each of the preceding two months and does not charge fares over the average of the remaining days. Any money generated from that surge pricing would go to the American Red Cross.

That didn’t happen because “yesterday there was no state of emergency declared,” Eva Behrand, spokeswoman for Uber's western region, told The San Francisco Examiner on Friday.

“What we are basing this on a state of emergency, that’s how it’s written in our blog,” she said, adding that was what “disaster” referred to as well. Furthermore, Uber released a statement Friday evening saying: “The Uber app was created to ensure access to a reliable ride wherever, whenever — making it the ride of choice for tens of thousands of riders across the Bay Area. In times of high demand, like inclement weather, dynamic pricing makes it possible for Uber to meet riders' expectations for reliable rides at the tap of a button.”

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