Taking an Uber on New Year’s Eve became a costly regret for passengers across Canada after surged rates on the busy night translated to exorbitant bills, with some riders charged hundreds of dollars to get home.
In Montreal, a 40-kilometre drive for two passengers turned into a $625 bill.
“We might have well just rented a room or something at that point,” passenger Veronica Iafrancesco told CTV Montreal.
Uber sent emails and posted notifications to social media warning customers that a higher-than-average ridership was expected, and that fees for the ride-hailing service were likely to multiply due to increased demand.
Split your fare with friends to help lower the cost of your trip this NYE. Cheaper rides? Cheers to that! ubr.to/nyeguide
Posted by Uber on Thursday, 31 December 2015
For Iafrancesco and fellow passenger Miria Blanco, the ride was 7.5 times the normal price. It was their first time using the app, and they say they didn’t fully understand what “surge” pricing meant.
Uber often multiplies rates when demand jumps during peak times, such as rush hour, or when fewer Uber drivers are on the road. The app includes a button that alerts users when a surge has ended and prices are back to normal.
Licensed taxis do not increase rates during high-volume periods.
An Edmonton man says he was charged more than $1,000 for an hour-long drive home on New Year’s Eve.
“I could fly across the world for this price. Instead, I went from one end of the city to the other,” rider Matthew Lindsay told CTV Edmonton.
The fare normally would’ve normally cost $125, but the surged pricing pushed it 8.9 times higher to a total of $1,114.
Lindsay calls the fare “outrageous” and says he’s been in touch with Uber to get a partial refund.
“They just haven’t acknowledged the fact that this is an unfathomable price,” he said.
An Uber Canada spokesperson told CTV Edmonton that surge pricing “helps ensure” that riders “can always push a button and get a ride within minutes – even on the busiest night of the year.”
The spokesperson added that Uber has been in touch with Lindsay and will review his charges.
Some customers say they feel the company took advantage of the popular party night to boost fees when passengers may have been intoxicated and less likely to notice or fully understand the surge.
“I feel like I was robbed,” said passenger Cassandra Zakaib, who paid $320 for a New Year’s Eve ride in Montreal.
Zakaib received a 25 per cent refund for her bill after she complained to the company. Still, she says the fee was unnecessary.
“They knew that people would be under the influence and so… they are taking advantage of people in a vulnerable situation,” she said.
Surged prices have drawn criticism for Uber in the past. Uber’s rates quadrupled in Sydney, Australia during an armed hostage attack in 2014, leading to angry outcry on social media.
Uber responded on Twitter by saying that the surge was automated and that the company would refund riders who used the service as the crisis unfolded.
CTV News technology expert Carmi Levy says it’s up to passengers to check Uber’s rates and confirm a fare estimate before hailing a ride.
“Like any other consumer product or service, it is buyer beware. Before you pull out the app you should read what you’re getting into so that when you get into the vehicle and it’s time to pay, there are no nasty surprises.”
Similar spikes in Uber’s rates were reported around the world on New Year’s Eve.
9.9x Uber surge here in Miami Beach right now… highest I’ve ever seen pic.twitter.com/oX0ZxftfI7
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 1, 2016
— Ryan G (@T20INC) January 1, 2016
Stats paid $205 for an uber ride last night pic.twitter.com/VkL1KGgp31
— Cam Bussiere (@Cam_Bussiere) January 1, 2016
With files from CTV Montreal and CTV Edmonton