Update: After widespread concern on social media today, Uber Sydney has announced rides would be free for passengers leaving the CBD at this time.
Update: Uber is also in the process of refunding customers who were charged for using the service during this period. A spokesperson said "We are in the process of refunding rides. If you have been charged during these hours leaving the CBD please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that surge pricing only remains in place to encourage more drivers to come online and pick up passengers from the area."
Uber fares peaked at four times the usual rate in the centre of Sydney today, as the city's CBD faces a lockdown amidst a developing hostage situation.
The centre of Sydney, around the busy Martin Place business district, has been evacuated and buildings placed in lockdown as members of the public have been held hostage in the central-Sydney Lindt cafe, located next to Martin Place train station. The situation is currently unfolding with police and emergency services on the scene and the closure of surrounding streets and Martin Place station.
Uber instigated surge pricing across the Sydney CBD, marking the upped prices with a lightning bolt icon, with fares quoted at "2.6x the normal rate" from a number of pick-up points in the city.
"Demand is off the charts! Rates have increased to get more Ubers on the road," a message on the app read.
The company later advised its customers that passengers trying to leave the CBD would be able to get free rides using Uber.
Uber Sydney trips from CBD will be free for riders. Higher rates are still in place to encourage drivers to get into the CBD.— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014
During the lunchtime period (at 1:30 p.m. AEDT) the app was quoting a number of base fares, which varied from the minimum fare that the service said it would charge. The base fare for Uber X was quoted as AU$6.50, with a minimum fare of AU$26, while the base fare for Uber Black was quoted at AU$26 with a minimum total fare of AU$65.
Mashable reported that customers were seeing quoted fares as high as 4 times the regular price, with a minimum fare of AU$100 and a set price of AU$9.59 per kilometre.
The company advised it was increasing pricing to cope with higher demand and that it is bringing more drivers into the city to meet this demand.
Uber Sydney released the following statement on Twitter.
We are all concerned with events in CBD. Fares have increased to encourage more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area.— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014
These comments were reiterated in an official statement from the company.
"We are all concerned with the events happening in Sydney," the statement read. "Fares automatically increase when demand exceeds available supply, to encourage more drivers to come online or leave other suburbs to come pick up passengers in areas of high demand. We are keeping partners advised about road closures."
Public transport has been significantly affected by the siege, with buses altering their routes and trains bypassing Martin Place Station. The state transport service has confirmed that a large number of regular services have been affected.
While the company introduces surge pricing during moments of peak demand, the company has also introduced capped pricing in the US, with a national policy that "pricing algorithms will be capped during disasters and relevant states of emergency".
The policy states that, "for each market, the state of emergency price will be set after excluding the 3 highest-priced, non-emergency days of the preceding 2 months".
According to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, the policy "intends to strike the careful balance between the goal of transportation availability with community expectations of affordability during disasters".
Updated at 2:22 p.m. AEDT: To include information about free rides for Uber passengers travelling from the Sydney CBD.
Updated at 2:32 p.m. AEDT: To include information about refunds for Uber passengers.