EDMONTON- He’s received a partial refund but an Edmonton man is still fuming over an Uber ride that ended up costing him more than $1,000 on New Year’s Eve.
Matthew Lindsay said he and four friends left a wedding in Mill Woods on New Year’s Eve and decided to use the ride-sharing service Uber, which is currently illegal in Edmonton.
Lindsay said three stops were made that night: one in south Edmonton, one outside of St. Albert and one in St. Albert.
He said he was notified of the surge pricing and the estimated price per kilometre for the group’s first stop. But he said he was not informed about it when the group continued on to their second and third stops, which are approximately 60 kilometres out of the city.
According to Lindsay, he wasn’t aware how much the total ride would cost. He said he did receive a fare estimate for the first stop but not the full ride. The total bill came out to $1,114.
“I was shocked, physically shocked. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he said when he received the bill. “I felt it was beyond unreasonable.”
“You could go anywhere in the world for that price.”
When asked why he didn’t take a taxi, which is regulated, Lindsay said he has been an avid Uber user for many years. He also admits using an illegal service in Edmonton put him in a vulnerable position.
Lindsay emailed Uber to demand a refund and the company replied it had done nothing wrong and that it always pushes a notification screen on the app before it can fulfil a trip request. The company said that is how it ensures passengers have agreed to the so-called surge pricing.
“I shouldn’t have to compromise my mortgage payment for an Uber ride,” he said.
Lindsay eventually told Uber he was open to discussing a partial refund and Uber later offered him $500.
Uber said surge pricing kicks in when there aren’t enough drivers to meet demand. It is based on an algorithm – prices go up when requests are up and drop when more drivers hit the road.
Riders are asked several times to acknowledge surge pricing. They are asked to confirm and accept increased fares. If the price is more than double, they must physically type that amount in themselves, meaning there are steps that must be taken before you accept a ride with surge pricing.
Uber sent a warning out to riders several days before New Year’s Eve to remind them about surge pricing.
Garry Dziwenka, the city’s chief licensing officer, said the city does not currently regulate ride-sharing technologies.
He said a vehicle-for-hire bylaw is set to return to council Jan. 26. If passed, it will legalize services such as Uber.
Dziwenka said the city is trying to keep up with changes in technology and the subsequent customer expectations. But since it does not regulate Uber, the city has little recourse for situations like Lindsay’s.
“There is nothing that the city can do at the present time,” he said.
In the meantime, Dwizenka stresses riders should consider legal options such as taxis.
While Lindsay admits that unregulated vehicles-for-hire are allowed to do what they want, he is calling for more protection for riders.
“There’s been a mistake on both ends and they can’t deny that. I definitely feel there needs to be a cap. There needs to be some sort of regulation or maybe even a flat rate, especially for a long-distance trip,” he said.
Lindsay said he has received lots of feedback ever since he spoke out about his bill.
“A lot of people are saying I look stupid… but that’s not the point of it,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s regulated or not, or if I got gouged or this guy got gouged. It’s not right. Buyer beware, they say, buyer beware. But it’s still not a reasonable cost to charge someone. It’s like with any other product – if the value isn’t there, you shouldn’t be paying that price.”
When asked to comment on Lindsay’s concerns, the company sent the following statement to Global News:
“Our goal is to make sure you can always push a button and get a ride within minutes – even on the busiest night of the year – and surge pricing helps ensure that choice is always available. When more people need rides than there are drivers on the road, surge pricing incentivizes drivers to offer rides where and when they are needed most. Riders are repeatedly notified about the pricing directly within the app and asked to confirm and accept increased fares, or can opt for a notification when prices drop. When folks know that the option for a reliable ride is at their fingertips, it becomes much easier to make the choice not to drink and drive.”
Dawinder Deo, the president of the Edmonton Taxi Association, said charging $1,100 for a ride from South Edmonton to St. Albert is “insane.”
He does not think the city should allow Uber to operate but if it does, he wants strict regulations.
“Our concern is for the customers. The customers should not get looted at the hands of the company,” he said.
“If Uber or companies like that have to play on the streets of Edmonton, they have to follow the same bylaws we are following for fares.”
WATCH ABOVE: An Edmonton man is speaking out after being charged $1,100 for a ride home on New Year’s Day. Uber said it informs riders about higher than average fares. But he said that leaves little protection for riders. Julia Wong has his story.