Unwarranted Vilification of Uber

The Tragic Events in Sydney Highlight Potential Civic Service

With such an inordinately large amount of negative publicity in recent weeks, it is certainly clear that Uber has seen better days, $40 billion evaluation or not.

This week, the eyes of the world were on Sydney, Australia as a lone gunman committed a deplorable act. Innocent lives were lost and the lives of many others will be forever changed.

As is often the case, events such as this galvanize the human spirit and bring individuals and communities closer together. We see this expressed through technology with things like #illridewithyou, a showing of support for Islamic members of the population. It was a response to witnessing a woman removing her hijab on Sydney public transportation out of fear or shame.

  Angger Prawitasari  thanks all supporting #illridewithyou

Angger Prawitasarithanks all supporting #illridewithyou

This online movement shows how technology can play a role in the events that follow tragedy. Products can help bring people together, facilitate healing, and advocate for change.

Sadly, there was another response in the aftermath of this act of terrorism. It was reported in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, and many other news sources that Uber began its standard surge pricing as the events unfolded in Sydney’s Central Business District.

  Image from Wall Street Journal   article

Image from Wall Street Journal article

It is critically important to point out that Uber has a standard practice of raising fares as demand rises. They call it surge pricing and it is used as a tool to both control demand and encourage more divers to get out on the road in order to restore balance to demand and supply. What happened in Sydney is that this standard practice took effect before Uber was aware of the hostage situation in the cafe. The company was certainly not looking to capitalize on the need for people to reach safety. Once Uber understood what was happening, free rides were offered and those that had accepted extreme surge prices were refunded.

After the circumstances were recognized, that was the proper response for Uber, but the question is how can the company prevent this from happening in the future. And this isn’t for the purpose of good press; this is so Uber can be a contributor to the myriad of ways in which technology can make our lives better and come to our assistance in times of need.

What if Uber was connected to emergency services? What if Uber knew that there was a gunman loose in Sydney and they could immediately offer free rides to people in danger. What if people could be driven to safety in the case of a natural disaster or a local emergency?

If Uber is more than just “Everyone’s Private Driver” and is actually in the business of “Moving People,” then why not move people when they need it most? Why not be heroes? There aren’t many user experiences better than being rescued. As Uber moves on from a series of bad press and questionable behavior, it still has the opportunity to be a company we can all love.

John FerriganComment