People trying to get out of downtown Seattle after the mass shooting Wednesday evening at Third Avenue and Pine Street were livid to see the price of hailing a ride from Lyft or Uber.
Courtney Rogers, 25, posted a picture on Twitter of a Lyft ride she requested around 6 p.m. that would have cost at least $46 for a ride to her home in Fremont from her office in downtown Seattle.
“It was a stress,” she said. “I didn’t know how to get home, and I felt like I was getting taken advantage of in a really bad situation.”
The shooting, which killed one person and wounded seven others, drew a heavy response from police, fire and medics. A block was taped off, and King County Metro Transit buses in the area were rerouted and were far behind schedule. Demand for transportation out of the city was higher than it may have been during a typical Wednesday evening rush hour.
The price of a Lyft or Uber ride depended on where people were going. At 6 p.m., an Uber Pool from South Lake Union to Sodo cost $24, an Uber Pool from South Lake Union to Wallingford cost $28, and a Lyft from Westlake to Capitol Hill cost $37. But some customers on social media, like Twitter user Nan, reported being quoted prices north of $100.
Uber said the company implemented a cap surge within a mile radius of downtown (at Third Avenue and Pike Street) around 6 p.m. at a rate of 1x — meaning normal prices. A cap surge prevents the algorithm from automatically adjusting prices based on demand.
The company is also refunding unintended charges.
Uber has a discretionary policy to implement surge caps during emergencies that affect public safety and when other circumstances warrant, according to the company’s website. When those occur, Uber teams assess the situation and cap surge pricing in the area, the site says.
“When we learned what happened, we implemented a cap on prime-time pricing, which is automatically enabled during periods of high demand, across the entire Seattle market,” said a Lyft spokesperson.
The company plans to reimburse or credit users in the surrounding area who were affected by this increased pricing.
Reports on social media showed that people who chose to share a ride had less-expensive fares, as is usually the case with ride-hailing apps. And some acknowledged that the shootings happened during evening rush hour, when prices are normally higher.
In 2017, Uber was criticized for eliminating surge pricing during the protests at JFK airport in New York in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. That same year, Uber was criticized for being too slow to turn off surge pricing during a terror attack in London.
Alayna Becker, 28, who works downtown and lives in Fremont, said she boarded a Metro bus around 4:40 p.m. Wednesday and was stuck in gridlock for about an hour before she got off and requested a Lyft ride.
She paid about $30 — double what she said she normally pays. While she said she could afford the cost, she was concerned about equity.
“When a crisis happens, like a shooting downtown, a company being able to double ride fares means that only certain people have the option to leave, as buses were delayed and light rail was temporarily shut down,” she said. “It means that you must be able to pay for your own personal safety. That feels terrifying.”
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