Uber's 'Price Surging' Policy Accused of Manipulating Drunk People

By McCarton Ackerman 11/07/14

Despite the controversy surrounding one woman's overinflated bill, Uber has laid claiming to reducing drunk driving in major U.S. cities.

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Ride-sharing app Uber has made headlines this week after a woman claims she was slammed with a $362 bill for a 20-minute ride when she used the service in order to avoid driving drunk.

Gabrielle Wathen posted an image of her receipt to crowd funding site Go Fund.Me, explaining that the website’s “price surging” on holidays and peak times led to her paying a rate on Halloween night that was nine times more than it normally would have been. Within 12 hours, she had raised more than enough money to pay her bill. “I feel taken advantage of and cheated by the Uber name," she wrote. "$367 for a 20 minute ride should never be justified, even on Halloween. Please donate even just $1 if you think this is utter and complete bullshit and also hilarious and very, very depressing at the same time."

Uber addressed the controversy, but fell well short of an apology. The company told Business Insider in a statement that “dynamic pricing allows us to remain the reliable choice, even on the busiest nights of the year. Our in-app features ensure dynamic pricing is repeatedly communicated and approved before any trip is confirmed.”

Issues with pricing notwithstanding, the company claims they are responsible for a reduction in drunk driving in cities where the service is offered. Their research reports that Seattle now has seven fewer DUI’s per night since the service was offered in the city, marking a 10% reduction overall. Head of global operations Ryan Graves also said that DUI’s in the NFL have gone down 80% in the league since they began offering free rides to players. But skeptics say there could be numerous reasons for the decline, including how police conduct DUI stops or changes made to public transit service routes near bars.

In a true piece of irony, California State Senator Ben Hueso was arrested last August for drunk driving, just hours after he voted in favor of a taxi-lobby supported bill that would make it nearly impossible for Uber and other ride-sharing services to operate. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick retweeted the link to an article on Hueso’s arrest and wrote that “you just can’t make this stuff up.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.