a sign on the ground

Let me start by saying that these are all first world problems. Poor me, my phone couldn’t hail a car immediately when I wanted it, I get it. It’s not the end of the world- but Uber is a travel business in a competitive, customer forward landscape; and last night they failed. They failed on more levels than can be counted, from the drivers to the tweeters. Come along for the ride (or lack thereof) that transpired last night. Oh, and by the way- Coldplay was fantastic.

I Was Trying To Get Home From A Coldplay Concert…

My wife (Laura) and I went to Coldplay with some of our best friends. We coaxed them into going, persuading them that it would be worth it- and to make things easier, we decided to Uber. Getting an insider tip as to when Coldplay was going on, we managed to arrive after the arrival rush, a great Uber experience. Coming back, however, was a total moment of Uber gone bad- drivers gaming a system amid utter chaos. Uber failed.

We Followed All The Steps, Hailed A Car, Waited At The Designated Uber Lot…

Uber has made so much money- they have a private lot at MetLife Stadium, just for Uber pickups. The thought of this seems very civilized and orderly. Our driver (despite seeming to be far away) mentioned that he was five minutes away. As we all know, in concert traffic, five minutes can be a lot more. We get it. After 15 minutes, he ensured us that he was closer than ever, could almost see the lot. And then…

And Then Another 45 Mins Went By… And He Cancelled, With Us “Already On The Ride”…

This is where the anger and frustration starts. The driver kept calling to keep us on the line, baiting us to stay with him. After a while, we noticed that he already had us “on the ride”, meaning we were getting charged as if we were in the car! Uber has reps on the ground at the parking lot, and we brought this to their attention. Their advice- CANCEL the ride we’ve been waiting 45 mins for, order a new one. Of course, the surge pricing had now tripled and our $60 (ish) ride was now over $180, and the people have now filed out of the stadium. The wait is worse than the DMV. WTF. We decided to put faith in our driver, sticking with him and NOT cancelling.

But Drivers Were Cancelling Rides On People If They Didn’t Deem The Route Profitable Enough…

I can’t begin to explain how many times I heard identical phone conversations. “Hello, this is your Uber driver, where are you going?”. “I’m going to (insert fairly local destination in New Jersey). Uber driver “Please cancel the ride, it’s not far enough”. Now this is just maddening. You- (Uber driver) accept the fare, find out i’m not driving to Texas- and you cancel, in hopes of a more profitable fare? Drivers should not be allowed to game the system, only cherry picking the farthest, most surge priced fares. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  I feel strongly that many drivers were intentionally gaming the system, playing roulette until they found the perfect, ripe $300+ surge fare. Lots of people got scammed, and charged.

Back To The Saga… Our Driver Cancelled. Cars Were Waiting Aimlessly With No Passengers. Uber Reps Were USELESS..

The driver, after goading us on for 45 minutes canceled the ride, charging more than $50 to our group. We were understandably furious (but polite) yet the Uber rep offered us no apology- and suggested we ordered another car. What an ingenious solution… for your company. By now, the more than 50,000 guests at MetLife were in the parking lot in full force. It was going to be a long time before we would get a ride. The rep on the ground offered no support, solution, desire to help or any token of apology. Heck, a $5 ride credit would’ve been something. Instead he offered 3x surge pricing and another 45 minute wait. I tweeted @UberSupport and @UberFacts – and the only fact I learned is that they too were useless. That, or they were overwhelmed with a situation they had lost control of- which they created.

1.5 Hours Later We Left The Stadium, Paying Double The Original Surge Fare. So Many People Were In The Same Boat…

We did everything right- even the (entirely useless) rep who was getting paid to take up space in the parking lot, basically just acting as a mobile billboard by wearing an Uber t shirt, said we did. Still, despite getting out ahead of the crowd, it took more than 1.5 hours to leave MetLife Stadium. That’s almost the duration of the Coldplay show itself! We felt as if we were the last of the Mohicans. The important distinction is that we were not alone here. Countless people were tired, furious, (drunk), or just frustrated that they paid an extreme premium to Uber versus train, plane, carpool; followed Uber’s own instructions and were left stranded.  Cancelled upon and charged by drivers with no remorse or recourse. Were the drivers gaming the system, hoping to charge people, suspecting some would forget to complain? I may even go that far. Don’t get me wrong- I’m generally on the side of the drivers, but this was foul play.

Uber Only Just Broke The Silence, Tweeting Me A Link To Report A Generic Issue. Thanks…

a full 12 hours after the incident, I received a generic reply, leading to a generic webpage where I could look into cancelled rides. Wow, thanks. My questions at this point…

  1. Why pay at least 10 ground staff members to show up at 11PM wearing Uber t-shirts if they are fully incapable of providing assistance, other than “yeah, the app does that”.
  2. How can a company which relies on reputation, timeliness and dependability allow drivers to play roulette- accepting and cancelling fares until they find the perfect gem.
  3. How can a company with a 17 billion + valuation not have a 24/7 twitter team looking into issues, offering assurances, help, tokens of good will in extreme cases.
  4. How can New Jersey continue to be the worst place to see a concert? It continues to rank as my 50th favorite United State, despite it’s birthing of legendary rockers and excellent television.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Uber is really pathetic when it comes to replying to customer issues. Only if it makes headline news do they actually care.

  2. Yeah, Uber has become the thing they were trying to fix. I actively try to only ride Lyft, their customer service is much better, and if I’m in a market w/o Lyft, I’ll take the time to see if there is a local rideshare app before giving into calling Uber.

  3. Thanks for the heads up on this, i’ll never use uber after an event.

    As far as a $17bln val…more like $70bln!

    Hope you rated the one you took home a one.

  4. It happens frequently. I have had various rides where the driver has parked away from the pick-up point and then cancelled to say I didn’t turn up and I was charged as a result – even though I was exactly where I was supposed to be collected. When I have gone to re-book, the surge price had increased in every case. It’s blatantly drivers deciding that they can get more money by taking someone else. As they cancel saying you didn’t show up as a rider, you get a negative score and not the driver. Uber need to fix this. They can see that the driver hasn’t been anywhere near the pick-up location (I assume). I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that I’d be better in standard cabs.

  5. Were Lyft, taxi, public transportation not options? I read about Uber’s relationship with the Atlanta Braves for their new Suntrust Stadium madness and avoided that by taking a lyft. I’d have to assume there are other options besides just Uber…but I’ve never been to Metlife so just curious

  6. I was once extorted by an uber driver to pay $80 cash for a $13 fare or I had to get out an walk. I proceeded to get out and walk 3 miles along a dark freeway to the next exit which was in the ghetto.

    Uber gave me a $5 credit.

  7. Dude, Uber sucks. Period. They act more and more like ULCC airline when things don’t go just right.

  8. Ummm, Lyft is much better. Both for riders and drivers.

    I’m surprised you didn’t know that already.

  9. Understand the frustration and it’s basically the same issues as an increasing number of people have with my Bête noir and their seat allocations systm. Not me, I no longer use them but look at this tale and understand there are worse things than being gouged by Uber posted today here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/736306129773733/permalink/1652111881526482/

    “We booked with BA in March for a flight to Tenerife for Jan 18. Quite early I know but my wife and daughter have medical conditions (Crohns Disease/UC with an Illeostomy and my daughter is Autistic), I like to make sure we are organised.
    As this is the first time using BA on this route I thought I would carry out due diligence and contact them before booking to check that they offered the same service as other airlines.
    Don’t worry they said just book your seats then contact our customer relations and it will be taken care of.
    So I booked called them, explained the situation and was given seats in row 8 the closest seats to the nearest toilet facilities.So far so good.

    Then without telling us they moved our seats to ones that did not recline as they were expanding the premium seats. So we reluctantly moved to row 11 as it was still reasonably close to the front toilets.

    I then received a call from a useless individual in media support ( I had tweeted about bad service) Gareth, who was there to make things better,only to be told that there was no guarantee that we could use the front facilities as they were in the Premium area and it would be down to the crew on the day. I said that this was not acceptable as we had originally been placed in the front rows for that reason and could we have a refund “£20 each” was his answer I asked how much it would cost to upgrade to Premium, his answer ” I will only quote if you’re serious ” and there was nobody else I could speak to.

    Next day I finally got through to an English call centre and spoke for over 1 hour to Michelle who said they would look into a refund after listening to the original conversation and would call me back either that day but DEFINITELY on Thursday at the latest

    By Thursday lunchtime no call, so rang customer relations in India( you always go there, and they can’t do anything) spoke to a nice young women who emailed an escalation and promised a call back from Michelle or her boss by 5, no call, called again and promised a call with 2hrs, guess what, no call.

    So I called sales (only way through to U.K. Call centre I discovered) and spoke to Ashley who understood and was ex cabin crew and said she could get me an email confirming we could use the front facilities as it was part of their policy but that the seats we were now in would not recline due to aircraft change so she could move us forwards.However she could not guarantee we would not be moved back to row 14 if the Premium cabin was extended again.I told her this was no good and could she give me a refund, no, but Mangetta would call me back, she did but sent the call straight to answerphone and when I called immediately back she had gone home.

    I gave it one more try and called again, was sent to India and spoke to a guy called Sunny who understood and would call me back at the same time Monday with a resolution, without fail, trust me.
    Guess what,yep no call.

    Then I got an email basically saying you were never told you could use those facilities and if you don’t like it contact CEDR.

    Why put us at the front if we can’t use those facilities, if you believe them then they actually put us at the furthest point from a toilet you could be on that aircraft.Why would I lie about anything.

    Unbelievably bad service, now I have to fight to get my money back.

    But to be honest it’s not the money, it’s the way they have treated my family, their lack of compassion, understanding and complete lack of customer service that has upset us most.Plus they have no discernible special needs policy and the only thing they care about is extra money.

    We have contacted the disability law association, the National Autistic Society, Crohns Colitus, and will fight to embarrass their lack of policy, and uncaring attitude as much as possible.

    Boycott BA, and do not let anyone who requires any special assistance book with them.
    Sorry it’s long and rambling but had to get the anger out.”

  10. “Uber has made so much money” is not true. They have never posted a profit since they started doing business and that valuation is based on VC money invested. All Uber has done for the past couple of years is abuse drivers (who, by the way, are not employees). Their “support” is complete crap, but they should be able to see where your phone was in relation to where the driver was and issue a cancel fee refund with no problem. It’s very possible that the driver picked up the wrong person in all the chaos and actually thought it was you in the car. Stringing you along for 45 minutes for $3.75 (Uber takes $1.25 of your $5) when there are actual fares in a metro area doesn’t sound like a very profitable venture, so there must have been something else at play. Another option, assuming you didn’t want to take a cab, is to schedule a shorter ride where there is less likely to be a surge, then request another Uber or Lyft.

  11. This morning The Times had an article about how Uber drivers have been colluding to game the algorithm. This seems to be just the sort of thing the researchers found.

  12. I wonder if you could’ve cancelled the ride and ordered another then contested the new, triple-the-original-price Uber ride with your CC company. Tell them it was a bait-and-switch or that Uber was using fradulent sales tactics. If they need further clarification, repeat the story to them that you posted about here. Better yet, point them to your blog.

    Uber is responsible for the conduct of their drivers whether they want to technicaly believe it or not. Contractors or otherwise-employed individuals are still in the charge of whomever pays their paycheck. In this instance, it’s reasonably arguable that the driver was acting on behalf of Uber in an effort to take your money and provide you with no product/service.

  13. Uber used to be a shared ride concept. You go home from work, riding your car, alone. Why not riding with a few people who are willing to chip in the cost? Thus ride sharing is born.

    Uber got famous, with cheap price, no compulsory tips, corteous & friendly driver. As in any business started, everything seems diamond.

    Then uber introduce tips and cost to retrieve leftover items. People are gaming the system and demanding tips as compulsory with the basis that driver didn’t make enough minimum wage.

    I’m sure you are smart enough to see where this is going…..

  14. Not that this excuses Uber in the slightest, but why didn’t you jump on the rail line to Secaucus Station and at least escape the cluster in that parking lot when it was apparent Uber had their thumbs stuck up their bottoms?


    Probably could have gotten out of the Uber surge zone if you had done that, and gotten a ride faster than waiting around.

    Quite often I prefer public transport to Uber/Lyft for these reasons; I’ve seen shady games like this happen with surge pricing, and the way to get away from it is “don’t fall for their games and use other options”. Thankfully the local light rail, bus or train costs the same for me to use whether 1 or 100 people are riding it…

  15. Unfortunately the exact same thing happened to me in Texas after a Cowboys playoff game this past January. Surge pricing exceeded $400 at one point and it was pouring raining. I ended up getting an Uber for $150 which was reasonable at that time.

  16. I take uber often and they do this all the time. I’m an idiot because I keep going back, but they have no (I mean zero) customer service. No one to call and they generally respond from India, not even pretending to understand English.

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