Bonnie Lieb said she expected to pay more than usual for an Uber ride from her Sterling, Va. home to Reagan National Airport Monday morning. With her car still covered in two feet of snow and her street unplowed, she said, she agreed to pay the Uber surge price of 4.4 times the normal fare.
Neighbors had said an Uber ride to the airport typically cost $50 to $70, so she figured she had agreed to pay about $250 -- expensive for a 30-mile trip, but she had to get to Denver for a client meeting.
So Lieb said she was floored when she got through the security checkpoint at Reagan, checked her email and saw her emailed Uber receipt: $640.94 had been charged to her American Express card.
“I nearly passed out,” Lieb, president of the Sage marketing and communications agency, recalled in a phone call from Denver on Tuesday. “I thought, ‘This can’t be right. This has to be a mistake. This is ridiculous.’”
Uber says there wasn’t any mistake. Lieb, a company spokeswoman said, ordered the Uber SUV service -- the most expensive option. That base rate, it turns out, was $144.76, not the $50 or so cost of the cheaper Uber X option that her neighbors might have used. So the 4.4x surge charge did, indeed, add up to $640.94.
Kaitlin Durkosh, an Uber spokeswoman, said Lieb’s $640 bill is “definitely on the higher end” of Uber fares she’s heard of. Even so, she said, Uber’s surge pricing is designed to encourage more Uber drivers to get on the road during events such as bad weather. That, she said, helps people like Lieb who are willing to pay a higher price to get a ride when they might have few other reliable options.
“We strive to be reliable at all times,” Durkosh said. “Had dynamic pricing not been in effect, there’s the possibility that no ride would have been available.”
Durkosh said Uber encourages users to check the fare estimator in the app before agreeing to the surge pricing. Users also can ask to be notified when the surge pricing drops.
Lieb said she didn’t notice the base SUV fare of $144. A customer service rep responded to her email, saying Uber would give her a future credit of $160, or 25 percent of the fare she paid. The email noted, “We understand that surge pricing may come as a surprise the first time.”
Lieb said she’s been a “big fan” of Uber, but she said she now wishes she’d paid a neighbor $200 to try to drive her and saved $400. She said she’ll likely use Uber again -- at least to use up her $160 credit -- but not during a surge pricing event.
“That’s the most expensive ride that I’ve ever taken in my life,” Lieb said.
She added later, “How they justify $640 is beyond me.”