Andrew Peters had no idea what awaited him when his flight from San Francisco landed at Washington Dulles International Airport on Monday.
“It was kind of scary,” Peters told WTOP. “We didn’t have any food or water.”
While he didn’t have sustenance, Peters had something else waiting when he finally got home Tuesday: a massive $600 bill, after Uber added charges to a ride that mostly had him stranded on I-95. With the $100 he tipped on the original $200 bill, Peters’s total was now more than $700.
“It ticked me off because I had no way of knowing that I would be stuck in this traffic jam for that long, and I don’t feel like that’s fair because they have the directions,” he told WRC. “I have no say in which way the Uber goes.”
After he disputed the charges, Uber announced Wednesday that it was giving Peters a refund for “this terrible ordeal.” The company noted that the driver’s pay would not be affected by the refund.
“We have refunded Mr. Peters and greatly appreciate his patience,” the company said in a statement. “We’re glad that he and the driver got home safely.”
It’s unclear how many other Uber riders stuck in the I-95 closure also received refunds from the app. Peters did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Peters was among the hundreds of motorists, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and families with children and elderly relatives, who spent hours freezing in their vehicles as temperatures fell to the teens. Many of those stuck in vehicles several miles south of Washington spent more than 24 hours without food or water. Transportation officials cited multiple crashes in the Fredericksburg area, some involving jackknifed tractor-trailers, and closed the highway.
The interstate in Virginia, which is already known for gridlock, reopened Tuesday evening. Highway crews spent earlier this week clearing interstate off-ramps and towing dozens of vehicles that were abandoned or ran out of gas.
Peters acknowledged to WTOP that he “didn’t really realize what was going on” in terms of the weather when he arrived at Dulles. The same could be said of the driver, who took I-95 and ended up as one of the many cars stuck on the interstate.
“We hopped on the first exit and then … we stopped moving right there. There were cars behind us. There was nowhere to go,” Peters said to WRC. “It was like being in some weird parking lot.”
Seeing people get out of their cars and walk around as if they were at a public park instead of a section of the East Coast’s busiest highway was “crazy” to Peters, he told the station. Once traffic began to move, Peters arrived home safely nine hours after the ride began — or about twice as long as his flight from San Francisco to Dulles.
When the ride concluded, he was shocked to see the additional $400 in charges. Uber notes on its website how “heavy traffic may cause your trip to take longer than expected and to compensate your driver for the additional time, your fare may change.”
Peters refused to pay the fee, but initially struggled this week to get a hold of anyone at the company who could do anything about the $600 bill.
“There’s an interface on the app that you can get trip help or provide driver feedback. And when I was pressing those buttons, there was an option for ‘Why did my fare change?’ … And if you press the button on there, it says, ‘There’s nothing we can do for that.’ … You kind of have to pay it based on how long your trip was,” he told WTOP. “So that was a little frustrating. And because it isn’t a person — that’s just [the] app saying those types of things, so I wasn’t able to get anybody on the phone.”
He predicted that speaking to local media about the situation this week might get him “banned from Uber.” Instead, Uber followed up Wednesday to inform him $200 will be credited to his account and that $400 will be refunded in a few days.
Even with the refund, Peters emphasized to WRC a new lesson he learned that might come in handy during horrific winter storms: “Don’t take Uber in the snow.”
Meagan Flynn, Dana Hedgpeth, Michael Laris, Hannah Natanson and Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.