Quebec legal clinic serves Uber over New Year's price surge

Quebec lawyers demand the company reimburse consumers for high fares

MONTREAL — A Quebec legal clinic has served formal notice to Uber demanding the company reimburse consumers who paid higher than normal ride prices on New Year’s Eve.

The president of Juripop legal clinic said he sent the notice Thursday and is ready to pursue a class action lawsuit if Uber refuses to give Quebec customers their money back.

At a Friday news conference, Marc-Antoine Cloutier described Uber’s practice of drastically hiking prices for rides during peak hours as “misleading, disproportionate and abusive.”

A potential plaintiff, Catherine Papillon, said she was charged $97.18 for a 10 km ride that normally costs her $10.

She said although she saw the number 8.9 written in her Uber application, she didn’t understand it meant she would pay 8.9 time the normal rate. She said her driver estimated the fare would be $36.

Cloutier said about 20 clients have already come forward, including Papillon.

Juripop director Julien-David Pelletier said the clinic’s lawyers will invoke Quebec’s consumer protection laws and the province’s Civil Code if the case is brought before the courts.

He said a client’s contract with Uber is a “contract of adhesion” which means the terms are not negotiable.

He added that the general principle behind the law is that a person cannot consent to a contract that is abusive.

“(Asking) people to pay many times the price they should be asked, in general, is an abusive clause and the consumer is right to ask for an annulity or reduction of their obligations and the price they have to pay,” he said.

Angry customers across Canada and the United States have taken to social media to complain after paying several times the normal rate for rides on Dec. 31 due to surge pricing.

Cloutier said he heard of a customer paying $500 for a ride from Montreal to Laval, and of another paying $700 to ride a few kilometres.

A spokesman for Uber said the company’s rates increase with an algorithm during peak periods to encourage more drivers to make themselves available and to reduce waiting times for customers.

Jean-Christophe de Le Rue said customers are clearly told when prices rise and are asked to confirm and approve the new rates. They can also opt to be notified when prices go down.

“We have used several methods to inform our users ahead of New Year’s Eve to ensure they were aware and could make an enlightened decision,” he said.

He said Uber drove tens of thousands of Montrealers home on Dec. 31 and only a small number complained about the rates.

He said most customers paid 2.2 times the normal rate due to increased demand, and that wait times averaged only 4.3 minutes.

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