Should Uber Have the Right to Charge $362 for a Ride?

At 3 a.m. on Halloween night, a young Baltimore woman took Uber home from a party. The ride lasted approximately 22 minutes. The next morning, she discovered that, due to Uber’s surge pricing, $362 had been deducted from her account.

It gets worse. The day after Halloween is November 1. Rent day. With the $362 vanished from her bank account, this woman was unable to pay her rent.

And then it gets worse still. When this woman creates a GoFundMe in order to make rent, her story goes viral, and lots of internet people call her stupid for not understanding basic math. “Uber told you that the ride would cost 9 times the usual price!” they say. “Can’t you multiply by nine?” Or: “Uber was completely straightforward about its pricing, and you are bad at being a consumer.”

As Uber told Buzzfeed:

A spokeswoman for Uber Maryland told BuzzFeed News that Wathen took an Uber Black, their higher-end offering, and that she would have had to type in the surge rate to confirm she was aware of it.

Still, I feel for this woman. Haven’t we all been in a cab ride where we didn’t realize just how much it would cost and sat there watching the little red numbers go up and up?

And yes, Uber does make you press that button to acknowledge the surge pricing, and/or type the number into the Uber system to confirm you understand that you are paying 9 times the usual rate. But it’s hard to tell what that means, because it’s hard to tell what the Uber rate is. (People have argued “it’s right there on Uber’s app,” but I just tried to book an Uber on my phone and was never shown a rate. I’m sure it’s there somewhere.)

And let’s face it: you can type the number “9” into your phone all you want, but I don’t believe Uber really wants you to comprehend that you’re going to be paying $362 for your ride home. If that were made clear, after all, I suspect most people would choose not to take that Uber.

Which brings us to the question: does Uber have the right to charge $362 for a ride? In the general sense, Uber has the right to do whatever Uber wants, as long as they aren’t violating any regulations. So it’s hard to say that Uber doesn’t have the right to charge $362 for a ride home, except for the fact that it feels like they’re breaking the social contract.

Because, again, if they were upfront about the $362, people would make other plans. That’s why it feels like cheating: not simply because of the price, but also because of the way they swerve around it.

Confirming you’re aware of the surge pricing is not the same thing as confirming you’re aware of the total cost, after all.

Photo credit: Patrick Cain

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