Uber customer gets handed $490 bill for an 18-mile ride…

By Steve Moran

The first person I’ve ever known to regularly use Uber was my friend Lori Alford, the COO of Avanti Senior Living. We were leaving some evening event and she was waiting for a Uber. I actually thought to myself, “Is that safe for a woman?” Yet, she convinced me to try it and I have turned into a fanboy. A recent trip from Ft. Lauderdale to the Miami Airport was half the price of a taxi. My wife recently took two 65 mile trips on Uber and they were each well under $100.

I will say it’s not perfect — and on occasion, I will still use a taxi — but it is pretty good. They also do a fairly good job of winning the PR war against them, mostly because they have so many satisfied customers.

Then I saw this story . . .

Uber customer gets handed $490 bill for an 18-mile ride

The Short Version

A guy and his friends went to the Michigan State vs. Iowa game. They then called for an Uber car for the 18-mile ride back to their hotel. The resulting bill was $490.

In each city, Uber has a set of rates for that city; however, during peak demand times, they use a dynamic pricing algorithm as a way to match supply with demand (just like airlines and hotels). Apparently, in this case, the demand was huge and the resulting fare multiplier was huge. Uber says — and this coinsides with my personal experience with them as well — that when there is a multiplier, you get notified on your smartphone app and have to accept that multiplier before your car is ordered.

This guy claims he didn’t get that option . . . while possible, I am skeptical.  

Two Other Things You Need to Know, if Not an Uber User

  • You have the option of requesting a pricing estimate before committing to a ride, which this guy apparently did not do.

  • There is no meter. What happens is that Uber already has your credit card information and immediately after the ride you get an email telling you how much you paid. There is also no tipping. Most of the time, when customers get those emails they are opened to “wow, look at how much money I saved.” Not this guy this time.

Important Lessons for Senior Living

  • This is a powerful story of being right and the big loser in one fell swoop. I am more or less unsympathetic to the customer, because my guess is that he and his buddies had been drinking . . . that they had seen dynamic pricing before, maybe even accepted it before and the result was slightly higher prices that were still better than a taxi. He should have paid more attention. He should have requested an estimate from the app.

    We also do not know how long the drive took. If it was, say, 4 hours because of traffic, it might not have been quite so unreasonable.

  • For all of that, the price was, in fact, huge. The driver had to know it was going to be huge and that he was going to make significant bank on that one 18-mile ride. He really should have given them some indication of what it was going to cost.

  • The big lesson here is that it is possible to be 100% in the right and still be completely wrong. In this one case, Uber has handed the taxi drivers a powerful emotional story, which, of course, they will use over and over again to push to ban or restrict the ride sharing company.

    This is a huge risk for senior living, where we are working with individuals who have declining health and cognitive abilities and, in many cases, complex family dynamics.

  • The solution is always communicating more beyond what you think is necessary. People hate bad news. Even more, senior living providers hate to deliver bad news or difficult news to residents and families.  

    Yet for all of that what people hate most of all is receiving bad news after the fact, after they have the option to do something about the bad news, after they have no choices or options.

On Uber’s expense account we have been handed a powerful reminder of what we already know.