Uber customer gets handed $490 bill for an 18-mile ride

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- It’s something a lot of people use to travel around and get home, but an 18-mile Uber ride after Saturday’s Michigan State vs. Iowa game in Indianapolis put quite a wrench in the post-game celebration for some fans from West Michigan.

An e-mail with the bill came through after they got dropped off at their hotel, informing them that they owed hundreds of dollars for that one ride.

“I thought that it had to be a huge mistake. There’s no way. That’s impossible,” said Lenny Teske of Grand Rapids.

After speaking with Uber, they found the price was the real deal, and they were responsible for it, said Teske, a college recruiter who was in Indiana for work and the Big Ten championship football game.

Teske, who took the Uber with some friends after the game, is upset about those charges and looked to the FOX 17 Problem Solvers for help.

It’s something people don’t always pay attention to. While many call it ridiculous price surging, Uber says it’s a process called “dynamic pricing.” Basically, they say, Uber always wants to guarantee you a ride even when there aren’t enough drivers to fit the demand for people waiting around for a car. It’s cases like those where you can get one of those high bills.

Unfortunately, the man FOX 17 talked with Wednesday was a victim of that, but he says the warning signs aren’t enough.

Teske was a loyal Uber customer for more than a year until he and his friends used an Uber to pick them up after Saturday night’s football game.

“My co-workers and I were discussing taking a cab. One of the guys is old school and wanted to take a cab,” said Teske.

He bragged about how quick and inexpensive Uber is. They were in a hurry to celebrate the Michigan State win, so Teske convinced his friend to try it out.

“It shows on the phone where the driver is. We pressed the car for him to pick us up at the location and we got a phone call and the guy says, ‘hey I’m too far away from you. Cancel it and start over.’ So I’m like ‘don’t worry. That never happened before. Let’s try it again,’” said Teske.

A new driver pulled up and they hopped in for the 18-mile trip to their hotel.

“I asked what the charge was, because I wanted to give him a tip. He told me he didn’t know. We get out and the car pulls away. Boop Boop. A thing pops up on my phone and said you were just charged $490,” said Teske.

He had been charged 6.8 times the going rate.

That $490 may seem shocking, but this isn’t the first time these high prices have made headlines. Uber got heat in Time magazine during a hostage crisis in Australia last December when riders were being charged hundreds of dollars to get out of a dangerous situation. Forbes wrote an article about the high surge charges being too unpredictable.  The Daily Mail wrote an article about customers that slammed the app for high charges during Christmas, not to mention the dozens of testimonials online about surge charge nightmares.

“That’s what’s so frustrating is this is unethical because where does it stop?” said Teske.

Uber told FOX 17 that their “dynamic pricing” is to serve the costumer. Basically, when wait times for a car go up because there aren’t enough drivers, then prices go up. People who are not in a hurry wait until the prices go down, thereby reducing demand.

Simultaneously, the price increase brings more drivers to that area as an incentive to pick people up. Once more drivers come to the area, and the demand goes down, then the prices go down.

Uber says they take precautions when the prices fly high. For example, on the application riders always know the price before they get into a car. The surge amount is prominently displayed. When the rate is more than double the regular price, then people have to type in confirmation before they accept a ride.

Uber said Teske ordered an Uber Lux that night, which is one of their most expensive services available in Indianapolis. Teske contests that statement and said he just ordered a regular Uber.

He also says they never got the screen to accept additional charges. He said after they canceled the first driver and called the second, the car just showed up.

“There are problems with apps all the time on a daily account. I have a problem with an app on my phone every day. So is it possible there was no accept screen? Absolutely, 100 percent. The point that I can’t contact somebody, and there was no warning when I get in the car, that’s ridiculous. The guy didn’t even say, ‘hey, stop for a second. There’s a surge charge,’” said Teske.

He said he will pay the bill, but his biggest concern is what happens to the next person?

“I just don’t think it’s fair. I’m not going to just roll over and say ‘Take my $500.’ I am lucky that I am blessed and don’t have to worry about money this time of year, but that could have been a single mom that could have taken money for rent, or Christmas presents, or food for their kids and that’s not right,” said Teske.

That $490 Uber ride cost more than some of the flights from Indianapolis to Grand Rapids. After speaking with Uber on Wednesday, they are going to give Teske 20 percent off the bill, which is about $90.

Teske said this was his last trip with Uber.

Uber is also in the middle of a class-action lawsuit with its drivers right now. A judge ruled that Uber drivers can take part in a class-action suit when it comes to their employment status even if they did not opt out of an arbitration clause in their contracts.

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24 comments

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  • Paul Raffel

    Yikes I’ve thought about using I bet once or twice, but not now. I used to drive a cab in Big Rapids and if memory serves me correctly that would have been a $34.85 fare at the time for an 18 mile trip. ($2.45 to hire and $1.80 a mile) I think I’ll stick to hiring cabs if I need transportation. Even if the prices have increased a bit it would still be cheaper, and you can see the meter so you know what the fare is. No suprises there!!!

  • Greg

    I will never use uber again after this I use uber every weekend and if this can happen to this guy it can happen to any of us I will be letting my company know about this also as they promote uber to all of the staff here in GR the fact they only refunded 20% is awful so if that is there customer service they can stick it up there a##

  • Brady

    This guy deliberately had to select the luxery class of Uber and then confirm that he would accept a 6.8x surge. My guess is that alcohol was involved and he regretted his poor judgement the next morning. The best thing to come out of this is that he’ll never use Uber anymore. Hopefully he doesn’t drink and drive or $490 is going to seem like a bargain.

  • Pat

    This is why I always do a Fare Estimate prior to selecting a car. The Fair Estimate will show the surge charge.
    This is the same with Lyft–you can estimate the charges prior to accepting a ride.

  • Lisa

    I’m a driver for uber and I drove a customs 130 miles and it was 123 dollars and no surge so the customers that use the service need to watch for surges it even give an option to notify you when the surge is gone just saying. Especially after a game of you wait a few it usually goes away.

  • Adam

    You should clarify that this idiot used Uber LUX which is the most expensive option on the uber platform. And its not available in Michigan. Don’t scare people into thinking the drivers in Michigan are ripping customers off.

  • B

    What a total liar. He selected uber lux haha, and he had to accept the 6.8x surge BEFORE he could summon the ride. He is a liar and showing his lying face on the news haha. What a loser. You can’t get something for nothing buddy, even if you whine to the local news. Don’t pick a luxury vehicle to show off to your friends and then complain about the cost.

    • B 2

      That’s awfully rude. You’re an awful miserable person. You know nothing. I am sure you will have a long lonely life. I feel sorry for your miserable bully life. I hate people like you. You are the epitome of a loser. Watch your finger pointing. I’m sure you’re the office bully too and treat everyone with a lack of respect . Gross. You’re awful

  • BatterUp

    This story sponsored by the Taxi Worker’s Union? As other’s have said, Mr Teske would have gotten notices and had to ok the surge. I’m guessing there was a bit of showmanship going on.. getting a Lux to show off for the ladies possibly? Most rides are $5-10. And single moms are smart enough to take a regular Uber. Don’t let this fool you.

  • Richard WAlker

    This guy had to intentionally select the most expensive ride, and then the app forced him to type “6.8” and click on “I accept this higher charge.” How much more of a “warning” could you possibly need?

    Seems like this guy just wants to blame someone other than himself.

  • Rebba

    Why would ANYONE overpay for unlicensed underinsured uber ride in some freaks private uninspected car??
    Ladies, google “ubered” and open your eyes!!

    • Carl Christensen

      Have you ever looked what goes into becoming an Uber driver? I don’t know what you consider unlicensed, Uber while not requiring the driver to have a Chauffeur License (which is just a written test and isn’t any harder to pass than a standard drivers test) does require the driver to have a clean driving record. As far an being under-insured that is by no means true, insurance companies require additional insurance if you drive for a rideshare company in addition to the extra $1million insurance that is covered by Uber. Also the vehicle is required to be a 2005 or newer model and in good condition, which upon signing up with Uber is required to under go an inspection. Before you badmouth an entire service based on a couple incidents do some research, the alternative is a taxi service and they don’t have the best track record either.

  • Marianne Evans

    Just because you’re intoxicated, doesn’t mean you didn’t pick a class of Uber (Lux in this case) or agree to charges (the app asks you SEVERAL times and you have to agree to those surge rates by manually inputting the surge rate number last I checked). AND…there’s a FARE ESTIMATOR in the app, so yes… you can be aware exactly of what that impact is on the total cost. He probably would’ve been shocked at a $70 regular fare on that Lux as well! By the way…he might be “from” Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids only has UberX and UberXL which are a fraction of the cost of the Lux. An approximately same distance trip in GR (non surge on UberX) would be around $17-23…not $70. So before we fear monger too much here, let’s recognize that he agreed to charges, had a chance to accept a surge or not, and like any class of Uber, it’s the slider on the bottom of the screen that switches between them. Now, let’s talk about how Surge pricing increases the chances you’ll get a ride, because the base rates in GR are so low. I’ll do the math for you… on a $4.55 base fare in GR, there is $1.55 that comes off the top for the liability rider that Uber carries on all rides for insurance. That takes it down to $3. Now, if you have a driver that’s been around in GR for many months, their commission to Uber is 20% and if it’s a newer one since the last couple months, they pay a 28% commission to Uber. Then, you figure 20% to taxes, since this is a 1099 situation. $3 – 20% – 20% = $1.80 (BEFORE EXPENSES and TIME for your driver). For a new driver that is $3 – 28% – 20% = $1.56 before expenses. Now, if you’re one of those 1 mile base fares and that driver drives too far to get to you for that short fare, they are losing money. Based on standard mileage rates ($0.575 per mile) for older drivers, they begin to lose money (not accounting for their time) if they drive more than 2.1 miles to get to your pickup location. For the newer drivers on the higher commission, they begin to lose money if they drive more the 1.7 miles to get to you. It would be in everyone’s best interest if Uber just raised their base fares. When you’re out in Standale and don’t get a ride from a driver in GR, it’s because they would be driving 10-15 miles to get to you for an unknown fare. It’s too big of a gamble. There’s nothing wrong with dynamic pricing and there are plenty of faults from Uber, but it’s not just passengers that are getting the short end of the stick. If fares were reasonable for drivers to safely make a profit on, they could dedicate more time to being on the road (away from other jobs or personal time), but as it stands, many of the best drivers in GR rarely/if ever drive, because they aren’t operating a charity. A smart driver operates it like it IS a business, because it is, and they aren’t willing to lose money for gambles on pickups.

  • va rideshare

    looks like the passenger was duped into creatimg the surge himself by agreeing to hang up and re-order. This is a pretty common tactic used by the drivers and you see Uber apparently has no problem with it.

  • Patrick

    Always take a regulated taxi, same price every time . Many taxi company’s have their own APP now similar to Uber, but much cheaper

  • Becky

    I’m an uber driver and I was out after the game in Indy that night having a good time…. Not driving :-) Uber drivers don’t ‘dupe’ people for other drivers to hit surge…. They had to cancel cuz downtown Indy traffic gets insane and they randomly block roads off…. Trust me I’ve encountered this. I’ve driven on final four weekend… This isn’t even the highest surge I’ve seen downtown Indy – ive seen a 10x surge. Nothing this guy did was accidental he had to go thru several steps to do this. His app didn’t ‘malfunction’. Yes apps malfunction but they don’t send cars that you choose to get into. If it was a mistake say so and u might or might not get charged $5…. Don’t get in then complain later! At the end of the night my girlfriend and I took a cab back to her house then I ubered from her house to mine outside of any surge. This customer has no one to blame but himself and yeah he should be on the hook. Just like hotels that skyrocketed the price that weekend so do other services. This is no exception!

  • Dan

    Taxis do the same thing, going to flat rates pricing with zones. The zones get pretty pricey. And I must have seen a hundred people trying to flag down cabbies that night unsuccessfully. I drive for Uber. I even had four different groups of people trying to offer me cash to take them (illegal for us to take a hail). There are clearly five different products offered by Uber and this guy selected the most expensive, probably because it was the fastest he could get a ride. That someone installs an app and doesn’t take the two minutes to understand how it works is NOT the fault of the app nor the service. Understanding how it works is child’s play. There is an easy to use fare estimator. Being drunk is not an excuse for failing to use it correctly. The problem that night was that surge pricing wasn’t high enough. People were still w/o rides and cars couldn’t get there fast enough. I was getting pings from 20 minutes away. This whole “I didn’t know!” garbage is willful ignorance on the customer’s part, pure and simple. And it’s a late remorse that forgets how desperately they wanted a ride at the time. Once people are warm at home (and suddenly sober), reality kicks in and they start to second-guess how badly they wanted to get there.

  • catfish252

    What a bunch of thieves Uber is- we’ll tell you the price by text message after you are out of the cab. You are all fools for using Uber. No wonder it’s being shut down by different cities around the world. $490 for 18 miles = $27.22/mile. Price gouging at it’s finest.

  • David Bennett

    When do people start accepting personal responsibility for thier actions? He selected Uber LUX and then agreed to a higher fare. Now he wants to say he has been taken advantage of? If he was not advised of the increased pricing then he should just be charged the lux rate, however, I have used Uber mutiple times and have never been surprised by the price, Uber has always given me notification of when the price increases. Only someone who is foolish would use a service, with thier credit card attached and have no idea what they are paying for.

  • Jenna Slye

    The Uber App gives you PLENTY of warning. Don’t act like you didn’t know. It pops up and states…in BOLD letters and numbers that there is “Surge” going on that moment and what the percentage of the surge is. YOU press that YOU ACCEPT the rate. This is their fault, not Uber’s.