While the world was stunned yesterday to learn of the latest hostage situation in Sydney, one company was seeking to capitalize on what - at least to the dozen or so hostages - was the tragedy of their lifetimes. Uber.
This is what the Sydney-based twitter account of Uber posted moments after the hostage situation hit the airwaves.
We are all concerned with events in CBD. Fares have increased to encourage more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area.— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014
The result was the implementation of sticky surge pricing that resulted in any car fare having a minimum fare between $50 and $100.
Needless to say, the response was swift...
... and sufficiently brutal, that Uber immediately not only ended its surge pricing but gave enraged locals free rides just to shut them up.
Uber Sydney trips from CBD will be free for riders. Higher rates are still in place to encourage drivers to get into the CBD.— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014
But the damage was already done. Reuters was on it:
Online car service Uber on Monday offered free rides from Sydney's central business district following a public backlash over an initial surge in prices amid a hostage drama in a city cafe. Fares on the U.S.-based company's booking app initially rose to a minimum fee of A$100 ($82) for pickups near the siege, more than four times the fare before the drama unfolded.
The price hike was a result of the company's controversial automatic surge pricing.
Sydney's public transport system was under pressure because of the siege as several businesses in the city, including major banks, evacuated offices and sent employees home.
And so the debate begins anew: is Uber right in engaging in cold-blooded capitalism and allowing prices, and supply, to reflect demand, or is it Uber's fault for not "injecting", as its critics demand, at least a dose of humanity in its algos?
The answer will hardly come any time soon, however for now the good news is that the company which more than doubled its valuation in the past 6 months to a ridiculous $40+ billion, has not lost even more value following a ban in Australia after what is becoming a global backlash if not so much against Uber's surge pricing concept, as to the company's status quo-challenging business model itself, which has seen the startup banned in increasingly more countries, from India to Spain to Nevada.