Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

In Aftermath of Sandy in NYC, Uber Scrambles to Convince Users It’s Not a Scrooge

Uber, maker of the popular mobile application for arranging rides in black cars, has had a less-than-smooth approach to handling New York transportation after Hurricane Sandy. Tweet-happy users, amid crappy driving conditions and high demand, have pushed the company into multiple policy changes over the past few days.

Earlier this week, users called out the firm for price-gouging in an emergency, when it implemented its normal policy of “surge pricing” for double the normal rate, due to increased demand.

So Uber quickly pulled back on charging users double, but continued to pay its drivers double for their trouble. That policy cost the company $100,000 on Wednesday alone, according to an explanation it sent users today.

On Thursday, Uber changed tack, charging normal surge rates. To avoid the appearance of profiting from disaster, the company said it will pass its usual 20 percent take (which increases as the fare increases) along to drivers. From the Uber letter/blog post:

So while we were mostly able to avoid higher prices the day after Sandy, the reality is that under this week’s extreme conditions, raising the price is the only sustainable way to maximize the number of rides and minimize the number of people stranded — by providing a meaningful incentive for drivers to come out in undesirable conditions.

With much of our AllThingsD staff marooned in New York this week, we’ve seen receipts and heard tales from all sorts of transportation woes, as the city returns to business without storm-damaged public transportation. For instance, yellow cabs are picking up multiple people for the same ride — as they were told to do by Mayor Mike Bloomberg — and many are asking a significant charge per additional passenger, as well. It’s not like there aren’t commercial cars on the street this week. Throughout the storm and the massive gridlock that followed, we saw taxis and black cars in operation all over the place.

One outraged customer sent us the Uber bill for a $100 ride across town on Wednesday, which does sound like a crazy amount — until you see that it took him two hours in traffic to make the trip. One thing Uber has never claimed to be is cheap.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google