Uber apologises for dramatically increasing its prices during Sydney siege tragedy

The company says criticism of it was based on an 'unfortunate perception'

Jon Stone
Wednesday 24 December 2014 11:04
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The Uber smartphone app, used to book private hire cars
The Uber smartphone app, used to book private hire cars

The private car hire app Uber has apologised to customers in Australia for dramatically increasing its prices during the Sydney gunman siege earlier this month.

All user accounts in the Sydney area received an email admitting the company was wrong to take advantage of increased demand during the tragedy by increasing prices.

“The events of last week in Sydney were upsetting for the whole community and we are truly sorry for any concern that our process may have added,” the email read.

The company however tried to rationalise its policy of increasing prices at times of greatest need by arguing that it was harnessing the principles of supply and demand.

“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 email argued. “We didn't stop surge pricing immediately. This was the wrong decision.”

An injured hostage is wheeled to an ambulance after shots were fired during the cafe siege in Sydney

Although it apologised for causing distress and said it was wrong to increase its prices, Uber blamed an “unfortunate … perception” amongst the public for the backlash.

“It's unfortunate that the perception is that Uber did something against the interests of the public. We certainly did not intend to. We will learn from this incident and improve as a result of this lesson,” the company said.

“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.”

The company’s business practices have been the source of significant controversy in recent months.

Critics, including police, have accused Uber of “negligence” in performing background checks on its drivers, who do not undergo the same training process as traditional black taxi drivers. An Uber driver has been accused of raping a woman in India.

Indian residents hold placards and chant slogans as they take part in a protest against the alleged rape of a passenger by a driver working for the Uber taxi company in New Delhi on December 7, 2014

Uber is backed by millions of dollars in investment capital and is hiring paid lobbyists in the UK. It regularly faces regulation hurdles and has been banned in a number of cities and countries around the world.

Last month an Uber executive suggested leaking details about the “personal lives and families” of journalists who were critical of the company.

During the Sydney siege earlier this month a lone gunman named Man Haron Monis took hostages for 16 hours at a cafe in central Sydney.

Two hostages and Mr Monis were killed when armed security services stormed the cafe.

Memorial services were held for victims of the siege earlier this week.

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