The spike in fares charged by Uber and Lyft after last week’s mass shooting downtown has prompted a letter from Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen to the ride-hailing companies questioning their use of such surge pricing.
Customers took to social media to report that the companies in some cases doubled their fares for trips in or near downtown immediately after the shooting, based on the apps’ algorithms that adjust pricing depending on demand.
“If true, this business practice by either company would be deeply disturbing in a city that permits you to use our public streets,” Pedersen’s letter said. “Access to mobility during emergencies should not be determined by ability to pay.”
Pedersen is the council’s new transportation-committee chair.
The shootings occurred about 5 p.m. Jan.22 at Third Avenue and Pine Street along the busy bus corridor. One woman was killed and seven others were injured.
Both Uber and Lyft instituted fare caps by 6 p.m. that canceled the price surges, company representatives said. The companies also promised to refund the extra charges.
Uber caps fares on a discretionary basis during emergencies that affect public safety, or when other circumstances warrant, according to the company’s website.
In the letter sent to Uber and Lyft, Pedersen asked whether the companies have a “formal policy for responding to such emergency/life safety incidents, including pricing.”
He also asked the companies to confirm whether they have been able to track and refund the excess charges.
Lyft declined to share whether the company has a formal policy to guide when to cap fares during emergencies.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the company said, “Lyft is always monitoring conditions to ensure we can provide riders with reliable and affordable transportation during emergencies. In certain situations, this can include capping Prime Time pricing.”
Dean Forbes said he was charged $57.89 for a Lyft ride from Capitol Hill to Shoreline on Wednesday. On Saturday, he received an email from Lyft offering a refund of $32.47, “which brings the final price to about what I normally get charged for the ride.”
Lyft said the company completed refunds over the weekend to those “impacted most by the prime time pricing,” but would not say how many customers were affected.
Uber also confirmed that the company has issued refunds, but could not provide details on the number of customers affected.
“Any rider who believes they were incorrectly charged should reach out to Uber through the app,” a spokesman for the company said.