Uber was charging customers in Sydney more than four times the normal rate during the hostage crisis on Monday before deciding to refund customers and offer free rides following backlash on social media.
As Sydney citizens tried to escape from the scary situation in Sydney’s Central Business District, demand for Uber rides expectedly increased. When demand goes up, Uber applies its “surge pricing model,” which the company uses to help encourage more drivers to start working and meet that demand.
But this strategy has come under fire, particularly during emergency situations. It happened again on Monday, when Mashable reported some Uber customers seeing price spikes as high as 4X with a $100 minimum fare in Sydney.
People then took to social media to express their frustration with the surge pricing. Soon after, Uber said it would refund customers who had to pay extra for their ride due to surge pricing. The company also began offering free rides:
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.
— Now Uber_Australia (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014
It was a swift decision by Uber, which has dealt with similar situations during emergencies like Hurricane Sandy. After that particular event, Uber met with New York’s attorney general and in July agreed to cap its surge prices during emergencies and natural disasters. It also vowed to apply the same process to its service across the U.S.
“This policy intends to strike the careful balance between the goal of transportation availability with community expectations of affordability during disasters,” CEO Travis Kalanick wrote in a blog post.
Whether the policy extended to Sydney is not clear.
It hasn’t been the best of times recently for Uber from a PR perspective. The company, which just raised another $1.2 billion at a massive $40 billion valuation, was banned from operating in New Delhi after one of its drivers allegedly raped a passenger. Uber was also just sued by the City of Portland after the company began operating there illegally earlier this month.
The crisis in Sydney, meanwhile, is still ongoing with some of the hostages having fled.