When an unidentified man took as many as 40 people hostage in Sydney’s financial district this morning, mass evacuations in the area created a huge price spike for Uber cars in the area. At one point the company was charging at least AU$100 (US$82), or roughly quadruple the normal price, according to Mashable.
While the apparent price gouging amid a crisis was cringe-worthy, the company wasn’t completely at fault—after all it relies on an automated algorithm to set prices, and demand had spiked. Uber has agreed to cap prices in the US during emergencies, but it has no such arrangement in place in Australia.
What wasn’t automatic was the company’s ham-handed PR response: Uber Sydney quickly explained on Twitter that the prices were high because the company was concerned:
The tone-deaf response was, not surprisingly, immediately and brutally criticized:
Uber’s executives realized their mistake about an hour after their first response, and ultimately offered free rides to anyone leaving the area where the hostages were taken:
The New South Wales police have asked everyone to leave the area, prompting some to wonder whether Uber should be urging drivers to enter it.
The incident, which is relatively small change compared to the uproar over an alleged rape by an Uber driver in New Delhi, does highlight that the company’s biggest gaffes have been self-inflicted by its own executives, rather than being caused by its vaunted logistics platform or well-designed mobile app. It seems there’s an Uber for everything—except crisis communications.