After an armed gunman took patrons of a Sydney chocolate shop hostage during rush hour Monday morning, the transportation company Uber quadrupled its fares for panic-stricken customers fleeing the central business district.
It charged a minimum of $100 ($82 U.S. dollars) to escape.
As the Sydney Opera House and other buildings were evacuated and images flashed on TV screens of hostages holding a flag bearing the message “There is no God but Allah” and “Mohammed is the messenger of God,” Uber tweeted it was raising prices.
The company has defended what it calls “surge-pricing” as necessary to encourage more drivers to pick up passengers when demand is high.
Within an hour, Uber backtracked after the media publicized customer complaints of price-gouging.
“We are all concerned with the events happening in Sydney,” Katie Curran, an Uber spokesman, told The Washington Post in a statement. “Uber Sydney will be providing free rides out of the CBD to help Sydneysiders get home safely.” In a blog post and on Twitter, Uber informed riders they could get a refund if they paid the higher fare by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This past summer, Uber announced it would cap prices during emergency situations after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman came after the company for doubling prices during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. However, that price cap policy only applies in the United States.