Uber, Croydon South Tory MP Chris Philp’s favourite taxi service, has been accused of trying to exploit an emergency situation last night by more than tripling fares for some passengers left stranded when East Croydon Station had to be evacuated because of a bomb scare.
Thousands of rail passengers in south London had their rush-hour journeys disrupted after a suspect device was spotted on platforms 1 and 2 at East Croydon. Trains out of Victoria and London Bridge and services from Brighton into the city were delayed and diverted as British Transport Police and the Bomb Squad were called in just after 6.30pm.
The object was eventually identified as nothing more than a long piece of metal, and the station was re-opened just after 8pm.
But that’s not before Uber tried to cash-in on the disruption, with Inside Croydon readers contacting us to accuse the cab firm of charging two or three times the usual rate for fares in the Croydon area.
For anyone needing to get to Gatwick Airport for a flight last night and unable to take a train, that might have seen a typical £30 Uber fare hiked to more than £100.
Earlier this year, after the terror attacks at London Bridge, black cab drivers were praised for offering free rides for travellers left stranded by that emergency.
This was not Uber’s response last night, however.
“It’s a disgrace,” one reader said. “They are charging three and a half times the usual fare. They are just exploiting an emergency situation. I won’t be signing their petition.”
Transport for London last month announced that it would not be renewing Uber’s operating licence due to a range of issues relating to passenger security and safety. The online taxi operator swiftly attracted support from tens of thousands of signatories to a petition demanding that it should keep its licence because, although its drivers were not subjected to proper checks, their fares are usually a bit cheaper.
Tory MP Philp used the Uber licensing issue to try to score some cheap political points at the expense of London’s Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, though that back-fired when the chief exec of Uber issued a grovelling apology and admitted his company had failed to comply with the terms of its licence.
Inside Croydon emailed Philp this morning to ask whether Uber’s tripling its fares to exploit a security emergency was the kind of market-forces, lightly regulated taxi service he favoured. Philp, who is attending the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, responded by claiming that he is “not uncritically supportive of Uber”.
“There are a number of things Uber needs to change, of which this appears to be an example. I do not condone, and in fact condemn, any exploitation of emergency situations which this episode appears to be,” Philp said.
“My point was, and remains, that these problems can be fixed without resorting to a blanket ban which damages drivers and users.”
For its part, Uber’s press office blamed the company’s “dynamic” fare system for the price hikes.
In a statement issued to Inside Croydon, Uber did not deny tripling of fares last night, and said, “Our app uses dynamic pricing which means that fares automatically increase when the demand for cars in a specific area is greater than the cars available. The higher fare encourages more drivers to come into the area so there are more cars for people who want one.
“In the event of a serious incident Uber disables dynamic pricing and refunds trips as we did in the case of the terror attacks at Westminster Bridge, Manchester, London Bridge and Parsons Green earlier this year.
“By the time we heard about the bomb scare at East Croydon the police had confirmed the item was not suspicious. We are nevertheless ensuring everybody who took a trip from the station last night will only pay the standard fare.”
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