Twenty-six year-old Baltimore resident Gabrielle Wathen was celebrating both her 26th birthday and Halloween on Friday night; unsurprisingly, she got pretty drunk. What’s surprising — and oh so Internetty — is what happened next.
At 3 AM, Wathen used ride share app Uber to get back home “to avoid drunk driving (#responsibility/#MADD).” Somehow, though, Wathen didn’t notice that her ride home had cost her $362. That’s because, unlike taxis, Uber employs surge pricing, which means that normal rates double, triple, or even sextuple during high-demand times, such as late nights and holidays. At 3AM on Halloween night, surge pricing meant that rides were costing nine times the standard rate.
“I feel taken advantage of and cheated by the Uber name,” Wathen wrote later. “$367 for a 20 minute ride should never be justified, even on Halloween.”
Now, Uber does of course inform users about these rises in rates. The app will even show you a price estimate for your ride. Presumably Wathen’s sense of #responsibility didn’t extend to watching out for her own bank account; as she posted on crowdfunding site GoFundMe on November 1, that massive Uber charge meant she was unable to pay rent.
Admittedly, this policy probably puts some people in tough situations. And this kind of predatory pricing is one of those downsides of the share economy that Silicon Valley types don’t tend to mention in their glowing discussions of “disruption.”
Did you just start feeling sorry for Wathen? Don’t… her GoFundMe campaign, entitled “Uber Stole My 26th Birthday,” asked readers to “please donate even just $1 if you think this is utter and complete bullshit and also hilarious and very, very depressing at the same time.” (The page has since been taken down.) Within a day, Wathen had netted her $512 — which means she actually made a $150 profit on her cab ride. TechCrunch was less sympathetic: “I’m unimpressed by this Gabrielle Wathen in every way except that she managed to pull off what is clearly a con catalyzed by irresponsibility,” blogger Jordan Crook wrote.
Really, it’s a story where no one comes off looking good — not Uber, and certainly not Wathen. Maybe Maryland’s proposed regulation of these ride-share services will prevent similar situations from happening in the future.
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