Uber increased its prices in parts of London around the time of a terror attack in June 2017
Uber prices did go up in London and in the vicinity of the attack.
This price surge happened automatically due to algorithms that observed increased demand, and was later stopped by the company.
On 4 June 2017, several web sites reported that the ride-sharing company Uber had increased its prices in London, in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack there, a day earlier.
CNN, for example, reported:
Uber has been accused of taking too long to turn off its “surge pricing” feature after a deadly terror attack in the heart of London.
App users complained that they were being charged inflated prices on Saturday night after a van plowed into pedestrians on London Bridge and three knife-wielding men attacked revelers in a nearby nightlife district.
The Daily Mail carried the headline:
Social media erupts as Uber’s prices rocket in aftermath of London terror attack – but company says it immediately removed “automatic increase” as horror unfolded.
And Resistance Report went even further in its accusations against the company:
Ride-sharing company Uber took advantage of the London terrorist attack to make a hefty profit off of people evacuating affected areas.
There is no dispute that Uber prices were elevated in London around the time of the attack, which police say started just after 10 P.M. local time. This is because the company uses a system called “dynamic pricing”, which increases or decreases the price of a journey based on algorithms that analyze the intensity and volume of demand for Uber cars in a given geographical area.
Crucially, these price changes happen automatically, and are not the result of a decision made by anyone at Uber. However, dynamic pricing can be switched off manually, which is what the company says happened in this case. A spokesperson for Uber told us:
We suspended dynamic pricing all around the area where the attacks took place at 10.50pm — a few minutes after the first media reports and before the first statement from the Met Police. We also ensured all rides from the area were free of charge — refunds were all made yesterday [4 June]. This is also what happened after the attacks in Manchester two weeks ago.
The spokesperson added that dynamic pricing was also suspended throughout central London about an hour and a half after the attacks were first reported.
It is true that the first official Metropolitan Police statement — that is, the first to appear on its website — was published at 3:58 A.M. local time, some five hours after Uber claims it suspended dynamic pricing in the vicinity of the attacks. However, the Met Police Twitter account first posted an advisory about what transpired to be a terrorist attack at 10:28 P.M. At 10:37 P.M., the London Ambulance Service Emergency Planning and Resilience Officers tweeted a public warning to “avoid the area” near London Bridge.
In any event, while a price surge was ongoing at the time of the attack, it was switched on automatically, and Uber does appear to have switched it off within 25 minutes of the first reports of a serious incident. In the past, the company has been criticized for consciously allowing a price surge to continue in response to a crisis, such as in December 2014, when a hostage-taking in Sydney, Australia saw Uber prices go up.
Uber appeared to defend this practice at first, explaining on Twitter:
Fares have increased to encourage more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area.
However, the company later apologized:
The events of last week in Sydney were upsetting for the whole community and we are truly sorry for any concern that our process may have added…We didn’t stop surge pricing immediately. This was the wrong decision.
We asked Uber whether they had changed their policies to prevent such actions being repeated, but we did not receive a response to that question.