Imagine a world in which a corporation determines the value of your travel based on priority and need. It dispassionately measures various systems for levels of activity. Anticipating major holidays, following local news to prioritize and effectively load balance individual automobile transportation.
New Years Eve? Figure on paying a significant premium to ride from party to party.
Major rioting in a city center? Pay ten times the normal rate to evacuate via car back to your apartment on the edge of the city. The subway is jammed with people, afterall.
This is what Uber Sydney did when they announced, in the midst of a serious hostage situation in the city's central business district (CBD).
Apparently Uber was not concerned enough to do the right thing.
Rather than offering higher margins to drivers, they decided that everyone should pay. The algorithm for a major city celebration was just as effective in quantifying the demand for fearful citizens to move about the city in a crisis.
In all likelihood, Uber will apologize. They may even offer anyone who bit the bullet a voucher for a free ride. The algorithms will be adjusted.
But remember the first impulse. The initial response was not really "how can we help those people." They didn't care for the events in a meaningful way. They cared that there was high demand. And as always, increased demand drives up the price that the customer pays.
Consider also that Uber positions itself as a transportation technology company. If this was actually true then the whizzes at Uber would be coordinating drivers in a meaningful way rather than simply sounding the alarm that there was money to be made in the CBD since fares were higher there.
In under an hour, Uber has altered their messaging.
Mashable also quotes Uber CEO (what an ominous term) Travis Kalanick on Uber's emergency surge pricing and how it seeks to "strike a balance" between ride availability and price. They're still considering a profit motive in an emergency context, however, which sounds rather gross.
How about this, instead. Drivers who are active in emergency situations get a bonus later. Some sort of "good Samaritan bonus." After the emergency is cleared, they stand to make more money per ride for a period of relative calm. This doesn't impact the cost to customers in an emergency and still encourages driver availability.
That is, if Uber isn't only after money, of course.