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Toronto Uber rider charged $207 for opening window despite driver's wishes

A Toronto woman was left with an unexpected (and some might say bogus) charge on her Uber account this week after arguing with a driver about the veracity of her COVID-19 concerns and compliance with Uber's own policies.

Alyssa Schwartz, a writer and digital consultant based in Toronto, had hailed a car through the popular ride sharing app on Monday evening to go home.

Upon being picked up, she asked the driver if he wouldn't mind opening up his locked windows as a safety precaution amid skyrocketing case rates linked to the highly-contagious Omicron variant.

The driver refused, telling Schwartz that it was too cold outside. So, in the interest of health, she firmly insisted, telling the driver that she'd exit the vehicle if he wouldn't unlock the windows.

He complied, but not happily: Schwartz says the driver made a crack about how COVID is "just a cold" and vowed to give her a bad rating within the app. He also threatened to ensure that she would be penalized for making "a mess."

It wasn't until she got home and found she'd been charged a hefty cleaning fee on top of her regular fare that she understood what the driver had meant.

"We adjusted the total for your recent ride," reads an email Schwartz received and republished via Twitter on Tuesday morning, presenting a charge for $206.89.

"Your driver let us know that a mess occurred on this trip that required cleaning. To compensate your driver, we added a Cleaning Fee to the final price of your trip. This fee will appear on your payment method statement within 3-5 business days. If you have any questions, please reach out to us."

Reach out, she did, and an Uber customer service representative sent back a photo of the alleged damage she had caused: It showed the seat of a vehicle with some water on it — something that any reasonable person would say cost less than $200 to clean.

Schwartz alleges that the driver put water on the seat himself after she left, but was even more upset with Uber for refusing to back down on the charge.

"Even if windows open did cause some water to get into the vehicle (physically very unlikely under the circumstances, but let's say), your covid safety policy is windows open," she tweeted at the company.

"Now you're saying if a seat gets a little wet the rider has to pay $200+?"

Uber itself did announce shortly after the pandemic first hit last year that it was changing protocols for drivers and riders to better protect everybody from illness.

"Before every trip, riders must confirm that they've taken precautions like wearing a face cover and washing or sanitizing their hands," wrote the company at the time. "They must also agree to sit in the back seat and open windows for ventilation."

Uber Support responded to say that someone would be looking into the issue around 3 p.m. on Tuesday. After some back and forth with Schwarz, the ride share giant eventually refunded both the cleaning fee and the cost of the ride around 7 p.m. last night.

"The rider's experience did not meet our expectations. Uber's committed to the safety of riders and drivers and is constantly educating users on the best COVID-related safety practices while on a trip," a spokesperson for Uber told blogTO when asked about the matter. "We are reaching out to the rider and are working to resolve the issue."

While happy to receive her money back from Uber, Schwartz is still annoyed by how long it took to get the fraudulent charge reversed.

"As a freelancer who doesn't get paid when she doesn't work, it's unfortunate that it took a whole day of effort and attention to recoup the $200," she told blogTO on Wednesday.

"The way Uber handled this meant I was out either way."

Lead photo by

Dominic Bugatto

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