'Sickening': Uber and Lyft accused of gouging military visitors to Hawaii

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
Published: May. 2, 2018 at 4:01 PM HST|Updated: May. 3, 2018 at 8:23 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When several U.S. Navy ships docked in Pearl Harbor over the last weekend in April, some departing sailors were charged more than $170 by Uber or Lyft drivers whose rates skyrocketed due to the sudden demand caused by thousands of military members trying to get off the ships.

Taxi driver Robert Deluze, owner of AA Robert's Taxi, who researched the fares, said cabs were charging about $45 for similar rides.

"To me this is not price surging — it's price gouging," DeLuze said, during a City Council discussion Wednesday on so-called surge pricing in the ride-sharing apps.

Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, whose husband is in the military, called the practice "sickening to my stomach."

Pine said she knows firsthand how desperate service members are to get back with families or to relax ashore after long deployments. "I just find this disgusting," Pine said. "It sounds like you are preying on military members."

Tabatha Chow, senior operations manager for Uber in Hawaii, did not deny that prices jump dramatically when thousands of military members suddenly call for rides. She said the intent of surge pricing was "not to take advantage of people, the intent is reliability."

She said the company would be willing to reconsider how the surge pricing system impacts specific situations.

"I absolutely appreciate these comments, this can be a learning experience for us," she said, adding that her own fiance was a Navy pilot stationed away from Hawaii.

Chow also pointed out that the Uber app shows a potential rider what the fare will be before they accept the ride, and tells the rider that the price being offered is higher due to high demand.

She said the surge price is recalculated by the program every two minutes, so people willing to wait could get a lower fare.

Pricing is a major piece of the debate in the city over how to regulate the private transportation companies. Traditional taxi companies, which have powerful allies on the City Council, say the usually lower fares offered by Uber and Lyft have forced many cab drivers off the road.

Bill 35, which is the latest version of new regulations, could include caps on ride-hailing fares. The measure would be set rates similar to taxi fares, which are regulated by the city.

In testimony at Wednesday's hearing of the Council Budget Committee, Sheri Kajiwara, the director of the city department of Customer Services, said the city would support more regulations of fares to create "an equitable playing field." She added that there's support for capping ride-sharing surge pricing, while eliminating common extra fees (like baggage handling charges), which taxis often use to collect more from customers.

The information about prices paid by visiting service members made such a cap more likely. Budget Chairman Trevor Ozawa told the Uber representative the fares were "really, really high," and insisted that if the surge prices were necessary the company needed to justify them.

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