Uber and Lyft criticized for surge pricing after NYC subway shooting

Both services say they're working to refund customers.

Andrew Kelly / reuters

On a rush hour train in Brooklyn's Sunset Park Tuesday morning, an individual described as wearing a gas mask and construction vest opened fire inside a subway car, hitting 10 passengers and critically injuring five. Some commuters in the area however, discovered that in the wake of the shooting, fare prices quoted by rideshare companies had skyrocketed due to understandably increased demand.

Some apparently contemporaneous tweets show users being quoted $70 or more to leave the neighborhood.

“Our hearts go out to the victims of this morning’s terrible shooting in Sunset Park," Josh Gold, a spokesperson for Uber told Engadget. "Following the incident, Uber disabled surge pricing in the vicinity and capped pricing citywide." Similarly, Lyft has told Engadget that it has "suspended prime-time pricing for riders in the area."

Neither company would say for how long they intend to keep surge pricing disabled. However, both have stated they'll refund customers in some capacity. "If anyone on our platform experienced unintended charges during this emergency, we will work to get them refunded," Gold told Engadget, clarifying that customers would still be charged the normal, non-surged price, rather than receive a complete refund for the trip. Lyft likewise told Engadget it is "working to adjust fares for certain riders who paid prime-time prices when the situation first unfolded."

The appearance of price gouging during a tragic event is obviously not the kind of attention either company would prefer to get — and is an inherent danger of automated systems that are unable to account for the context of a localized increase in demand. Still, this is far from the first time rideshare companies have managed to bungle similar circumstances. Surge pricing spiked after a bomb in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan injured dozens in 2016; in Sydney, Australia during a 16-hour hostage crisis in 2014; in London after a vehicle was deliberately driven into a crowd of pedestrians in 2017; and in 2020 after eight people were shot in downtown Seattle, leaving one dead.

The perpetrator of this morning's shooting remains at large some 12 hours later, though authorities have since released information on a person of interest.