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Uber hammered by price gouging accusations during NYC's explosion

Uber black car
Robert Galbraith | Reuters

Passengers attempting to hail Uber cars during New York City's explosion on Saturday night hammered the ride sharing service for its pricing policies, accusing the company of gouging customers during a dangerous incident.

As news broke that a device had detonated in the city's Chelsea section, scared passengers attempted to use their Uber apps to hail a ride home—only to be hit with notifications that demand was "off the charts."

Furious users took to Twitter to vent their frustration, which was first reported by The Sun UK. Shortly after the blast, Uber announced on the social network that it had suspended its "surge pricing," a system that has been criticized in the past by some riders.

Still, some local users were still complaining about surge pricing well after the explosion's implications became clear.

Charging a premium at times when a potential client wants something badly, of course, is a function of basic supply and demand (otherwise known as Economics 101). As a number of Uber boosters note, surge pricing is more of an incentive for drivers to pick up passengers, as they tend to earn more during peak times than they would during normal hours. Most Uber drivers set their own schedule, and moonlight for extra money.

That said, the company has taken its lumps for surging during emergencies, most notably the 2014 hostage crisis in Sydney. At the time, Uber was ripped for surge pricing at a time when frightened would-be riders were attempting to flee a deadly standoff at a local cafe.

A couple of years ago, Uber struck an agreement with New York's attorney general to limit surge pricing during natural disasters and states of emergency. Although there was no formal declaration of emergency during Saturday's explosion, a spokesperson told CNBC that the company curbed its surge pricing nonetheless, because it was appropriate given the nature of the situation in Chelsea.