$800 for a 20-Mile Ride? 7 Most Outrageous Uber Rip-Offs
Depending on your point of view, Uber has either had the worst stretch of luck in recent startup history, or is flying high. The free-market car-hailing app recently boasted a valuation of $40 billion. This even as the service suffers some from continual bad press and finds legal challenges to its very existence mounting worldwide.
In the past few weeks, cities as far-flung as Portland, Oregon and Rio de Janeiro have moved to ban the company from operating within city limits. The rape of an Uber passenger in New Delhi threatens its existence there. Its drivers have been revealed to be less vetted than originally promised—and that’s when the drivers themselves aren’t striking to make the money they were originally promised.
The app itself is no better, having been exposed as all but malware, with data mining functions so intrusive they’ve gotten the attention of Senator Al Franken. And one of the leaders of the company was heard at a dinner threatening to devote oppo researchers to journalists who criticize the organization, a move even the normally pugnacious Uber had to backtrack on.
But after all that, nothing plagues Uber like its pricing scheme. Arguably the heart of the company’s strategy, dynamic or “surge” pricing inflates and constricts the cost of a trip according to demand. The surge pricing is meant to entice extra drivers onto the road when more people need rides; in theory creating the market’s proper allocation of resources.
But as so often happens with markets, the neat theory fails to take into account the messy contingencies of reality. Nowhere was this more shockingly apparent than in Sydney, Australia during the recent hostage crisis, when Uber’s surge pricing kicked in as the entire downtown tried to clear out the way of a terrorist attack. (The company scrambled to undo this nightmare, offering free rides out of downtown Sydney long after they’d become the villains of the Internet.)
Sydney was only the most appalling example. From drivers taking passed-out passengers on joyrides to run up the bill, or dropping several hundred dollar tabs on intoxicated people who just needed to get home, here are the most jaw-dropping Uber rides to date.
1. Los Angeles: $814
Alan Dumpit’s $814 ride in Los Angeles may have set the Uber record. Dumpit took an Uber car from his home in El Monte to a show in Culver City, a 21-mile ride at the normal rate. Knowing he was in surge pricing on the way back, he and his friend negotiated with the driver for a ride that would cost between $150-$200 (the equivalent of about a 1.5x surge pricing). Their driver canceled the original trip and ordered them a new one at the new rate.
So Dumpit and his friend were quite surprised to find the $814 bill. The new trip had been accepted at surge pricing of 7.75x rather than the original 9x, ballooning the price above $800. It was then Dumpit discovered one of the most recurring complaints about the pseudo-taxi company: its lack of customer service. Dumpit and his friend emailed a customer service rep, who tried to ignore the Uber driver’s role in the obscene bill. Only after consistent haranguing did the two get some of their money back.
2. Golden, CO: $539
One of the most expensive unintentional bills in Uber history occurred this past Halloween, when one Colorado man was taken on a $539, 18-mile Halloween ride.
“I was expecting $44, $50, $60, $100 on the outside,” Golden resident Elliot Asbury told a local news station. Well aware that his 18-mile trip home would cost him a pretty penny, he was stunned when the surge pricing-inflated tab hit $539.
Before you say he should have known better, consider that $500-plus was so high even the driver was shocked. Asbury said the driver “was embarrassed actually. He gave me his card and he was like, ‘Make phone calls. Get in touch with customer service. This can’t be right.'”
But Uber said the total, which had been calculated at seven times the base rate, was correct. Asbury paid half a grand to get home, and learned a lesson about the app. “Don’t bother, man,” he said. “Take a helicopter.”
3. Baltimoref: $362
Arguably the most infamous Uber tab was wracked up by a Baltimore Facebook user named Gabby, who woke up the morning after her 26th birthday to find Uber had charged her most of her rent on the way home from the bar.
“When 3 AM rolled around, I suggested we take an Uber hole to avoid drunk driving (#responsibility/#MADD),” she wrote on her Facebook wall that morning. “I live 22 minutes, tops, from the party I was leaving. When I awoke this morning, I heard a friend talking about how outrageous Uber rates were the night before (9x original rate). I checked my bank account to, unbeknownst to me, I see a charge for $362. Not only is it my 26th birthday, it is rent day. My rent is $450 and I can no longer pay it today due to this completely outrageous charge.”
Gabby was luckier than most: she successfully raised over $500 through a crowdfunding site to cover the charge. Next time, she’s walking.
4. Minneapolis: $411
Surge pricing is not the only way Uber can jack up the price. Not long after Elliott Asbury took his $539 ride home in Colorado, Mollie Hughes was unable to find a cab or regularly priced Uber, so she ordered one of the service’s elite SUVs, which charge more per mile. The app alerted Hughes that surge pricing, at six times the normal rate, was in effect, but she lived relatively close and figured she would only pay a little extra.
Nope. Hughes got home 20 minutes later to find that her $65 ride had grown into $438—for a rate of over $20 per minute.
“I agreed to this and knew what I was doing,” she said. “I just think you can't expect people to justifiably pay $400 for a 20-minute ride home.”
Like Asbury, Hughes figured for that much money she should have been airborne. “I mean, I could have gotten taken out on a chopper for that price,” she said.
5. New York City (all of it): $293
Sometimes you don’t even need surge pricing to get an appalling bill from Uber. A New York food writer named Megan called an Uber car when she wasn’t feeling well this past week and ended up passing out in the backseat.
Only when she looked at her charges much later did she see the $239 bill. It wasn’t surge pricing that racked it up; it was the driver, who took advantage of the fact that she wasn’t conscious to drive all over god’s creation. A five-mile ride to Hoboken became a 15-mile ride, most of which was spent cruising up and down the streets of New York.
"I know a lot of people that pass out in cars/cabs and I can imagine drivers sometimes take a longer route to take advantage, but this is the most extreme case I've ever seen," she said. "Completely took advantage of a girl riding by herself. Thankfully nothing worse happened!"
Uber eventually refunded two-thirds of her trip, still leaving her with a 2.8x surge pricing even after the driver’s joy ride — and apologized. All it took was Megan calling, tweeting and finally contacting website Gothamist to get it to happen.
6. Denver: $443
A lot of these cases involve intoxicated people, which has led some Uber defenders to call the large bills just desserts for a night of debauchery.
None of that applies to Denver mom Tracy Reed, who took an Uber to and from an Elton John concert this past September. The ride was 21 miles, and the trip there cost $106, not unreasonable. It was on the ride home when the surge pricing kicked in, and Reed found herself staring at a $443 bill. It was her first time using the service, and she had no idea what surge pricing would do to a $100 ride.
Like most people wronged by Uber, Reed sounded as though she wants something fancier for all that money. "I would have gotten us a stretch limousine all night long for less than this,” Reed said afterward.
7. Florida: $417
Sometimes even knowing about surge pricing can’t save you. One man in Jacksonville, FL took an Uber car from downtown to Jacksonville Beach and knew it was going to cost him.
"I realized I was going to pay a surge price. We said, Hey, it is normally a $50 ride, if we have to pay $75 or $100 to get home and not drink that is totally worth it,” Jay Mellon said. “You know we were not expecting a fare times 9.8.”
Mellon thought the surge meant 9.8%, not a multiplier of 9.8. That’s how a $50 cab ride turned into $417.
Like everyone else on this list, Mellon struggled to get Uber to address the charge, ultimately receiving a 25% refund, leaving him with a $300 trip. For that money, you can get a chopper.