A Minneapolis woman fell victim to Uber's notorious "surge" pricing as she was charged more than $400 for a 10.8 mile ride home.
Mollie Hughes told FOX 9 she took a ride with the app-based transportation company from downtown Minneapolis last month back to her home in Uptown, via St. Louis Park where the driver dropped her friend off.
She had failed to hail a cab or find a cheaper Uber, and so selected a nearby Uber SUV that was operating under surge pricing – a practice that allows drivers to charge passengers more at times of high demand.
When she got the bill, the $65.30 charge was multiplied by 6.3, giving her a grand total of just over $411.
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"I was in a panic to be honest. ... It's just absurd," she told FOX9.
"I agreed to this and knew what I was doing. I just think you can't expect people to justifiably pay $400 for a 20 minute ride home," she added.
The surge price trap
Hughes joins the growing number of passengers to have fallen foul of the international car-sharing service's pricing structure, which came to a head particularly on the night of Halloween as passengers across the country got stung with high charges.
The New York Daily News reports a man was charged $539 for a 20-mile ride home on Halloween night in Denver, while the Business Insider reports a woman from Baltimore used crowdsourcing to raise the $362 she needed to pay the bill for an Uber ride the same night.
Durham resident Gagandeep Bindra was charged $455.03 for a 15-mile trip Halloween night, the Business Journal reported last month. He said Uber's surge pricing isn't transparent, and the customers has no idea if they'll get a huge bill.
But Uber defended the policy, the Business Journal reported, with a spokesperson saying it tells users on the app if a multiplier is in effect.
Before booking, the app will tell people what surge price they can expect at times of high demand, according to the Uber website, and app settings can be changed to tell people when surge prices have dropped.
Surge pricing was a major bone of contention during the debate over how ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft should be regulated in Minneapolis.
A city ordinance legitimizing Uber and Lyft was signed in July, City Pages reports, with the ordinance also loosening restrictions on traditional cab companies to allow them to compete more effectively with car-sharing firms.
The Star Tribune reports Uber and Lyft are allowed to charge more because the ordinance recognizes them as "transportation network companies" rather than taxicab companies, whose meter rates are limited by the city.
Uber and Lyft supporters had argued they should be treated differently from taxi firms, because their drivers work part-time, are booked via mobile apps and offer "superior service because of driver and customer ratings."