Some Toronto commuters took to social media to criticize car service Uber after it hiked prices across the city during a subway outage Monday morning.
Prices were 1.5 times to as much as five times their usual rate, according to commuters who posted their Uber rates to Twitter.
Uber has developed a “surge pricing” system, which the company reportedly aims to patent, that hikes fares when demand for Uber cars spikes. The higher rates are meant to encourage more Uber drivers to get on the roads when demand is high.
But the practice has proven controversial, with critics accusing the company of exploiting emergencies for its own gain.
For instance, the ride service came in for criticism last December when it surged prices during a hostage-taking crisis in central Sydney, Australia. After getting a lashing on social media, the company quickly backtracked and began offering free rides out of the area.
TTC subway and rapid-transit trains were shut down after a “major communication issue” disrupted operations at 6:20 Monday morning. A backup system that was supposed to kick in didn’t, the TTC said, and trains remained out of service for about an hour during the morning rush.
Taxi dispatchers were swamped and many who called cabs got only busy signals.
The price surge in Toronto comes amid a legal battle between the car service and the city. Toronto is asking a court to in effect shut Uber down permanently in the city, on the grounds that it is an unlicensed taxi service.
Judge Sean Dunphy has questioned whether the matter belongs in court, and has suggested that, whatever he decides, the ruling is likely to be appealed. He has also said he would stay an injunction against the company so it would not have to shut down immediately.
While Toronto Mayor John Tory has expressed a degree of support for Uber, the taxi industry and its backers have been protesting the service and pressuring politicians to take action against it.
On Monday, in the wake of the price surge, anti-Uber campaigners took to social media to highlight the company’s controversial pricing practice.