By Newsweek |

Lyft Charges $1500 for Drive from Lake Tahoe Resort to Airport Amid Caldor Fire Evacuation

People looking to evacuate from a Lake Tahoe resort in California to escape the Caldor Fire burning on the state's border with Nevada, rideshare company Lyft offered rides to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport for a price of more than $1,500, the Associated Press reported. The fee is around eight times the usual rate for such a ride from the Heavenly Valley ski resort to the transportation hub.

A 60-mile (96-kilometer) Lyft XL ride from the resort town to Reno normally costs roughly $200. A furious resident shared a screenshot of the rates on Twitter, showing $1,535 for a minivan or SUV for a minimum of five passengers. SFGate reported the costs had dropped back to $230 midday.

Meanwhile, a hotel and casino in Nevada located outside the evacuation area offered two-night stays for $1,090.72, the AP reported. The rate is nearly four times the price offered the day before for a room at the hotel.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Lyft Logo

Rideshare company Lyft offered people evacuating from a Lake Tahoe resort due to the Caldor fire rides to the airport for a price of more than $1,500. Close-up of logo for ride sharing and crowdsourced taxi service Lyft on a Lyft vehicle in the San Francisco Bay Area town of Daly City, California, November 3, 2017. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Lyft and Uber said in statements Wednesday that price jumps triggered automatic caps as demand soared around South Lake Tahoe amid emergency evacuations. Lyft said it was "reviewing and adjusting fares for certain riders who were impacted in the region."

"When ride requests outpace the number of drivers on the road, prime-time pricing — elevated fares designed to get more drivers to high-demand areas — is automatically enabled," the company said. "When we realized how the evacuation order was affecting Lyft prices, we immediately implemented a cap and ultimately suspended prime-time pricing."

Uber said fares in some places were capped Monday after it identified a public state of emergency. It enacted a second cap Tuesday.

Price-gouging amid natural disasters is not uncommon, though no federal law currently exists to ban the practice. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill banning the practice on a state level in September 2020 after it gained intense scrutiny at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when some companies tried to take advantage of high demand and low supply for products like toilet paper.

Unlike California, a Nevada price-gouging prohibition signed by Governor Steve Sisolak in June doesn't take effect until October. Its start date limits officials from policing the issue and taking action beyond promising to monitor it.

"We hope that good merchants are not going to partake in price gouging," Sisolak said Tuesday in Carson City, where ash particles from the Caldor Fire rained from the sky. "They're going to partake in trying to make their goods available to the widest group of people they possibly can."

Gas stations around evacuation zones did not appear to have raised prices significantly this week.

Officials in both states publicly warned businesses in the shadow of the massive blaze against price-gouging, with California Attorney General Rob Bonta, his Nevada counterpart Aaron Ford and U.S. Representative Mark Amodei asking consumers to report incidents to their offices.

Ford's office said Wednesday it hadn't received any specific complaints. Bonta's office said the information was confidential.

The Caldor Fire spanned more than 328 square miles (850 square kilometers) and was 25 percent contained Thursday. On Monday, flames raced so quickly toward the California resort city of South Lake Tahoe that officials ordered a mass evacuation of all 22,000 residents. People across the state line in Douglas County were ordered to leave a day later.

The Montbleu Resort, Casino and Spa — a towering 438-room Nevada hotel just blocks from the California line — began offering discounts for evacuees, $60 rates for firefighters and first responders, and free lodging for its employees.

For everyone else, it hiked room prices Tuesday from $120 to $450 per night before taxes and fees.

Tim Tretton, the resort's vice president-general manager, said in a statement Wednesday it did so to deter tourists from traveling near the wildfire and to keep rooms available for evacuees. The company planned to pay back the difference to those who booked at the higher cost, he said.

"We did not and do not plan to collect on these rates, and have provided reimbursements or reductions as appropriate," Tretton said.

Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and 39 states have regulations limiting price gouging during emergencies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Mississippi, parts of which have been battered by Hurricane Ida, strengthened penalties in its price gouging law in 2006, months after Hurricane Katrina left a wide swath of destruction and supply shortages caused long lines for gasoline during the first weeks after the storm.

North Carolina's attorney general filed a price-gouging lawsuit last week against a gas station that hiked prices for mid-grade and premium gas to $9.99 per gallon after a ransomware attack forced the Colonial Pipeline — the United States' largest fuel delivery system — to shut down.

Nevada's anti-price gouging law passed in May on a party-line vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. The law will ban price-gouging in areas where the governor has declared a state of emergency.

California law generally prohibits businesses from raising prices by more than 10% following a state or local emergency declaration.

"If you see price gouging — or if you've been a victim of it — I encourage you to immediately file a complaint with my office online at oag.cag.gov/report, or contact your local police department or sheriff's office," Bonta said.

Lake Tahoe Evacuates

The threat the Caldor Fire poses to Lake Tahoe residents is exposing differences between laws against price-gouging in Nevada and California. Evacuees are reporting rideshare companies quoting trips from area ski resorts to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport at eight times the normal rate and hotels on the Nevada side of the resort town hiked room rates to $449 per night on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Vehicles idle in bumper-to-bumper traffic after a wildfire evacuation order in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. on Aug. 30, 2021. Sam Metz/AP Photo

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