Four Ottawa women have come forward after their Uber drivers claimed they urinated in their cars — claims the women insist are false.
In each case, the women woke up the morning after a ride to an email from the ride-hailing service saying they were being charged an additional $150 fee for urinating in the Uber cars.
All four incidents occurred over the last four months, and each woman had a different driver.
All the women say the allegations are unfounded.
Cleaning fees go to driver
Early in the morning on May 26, Danielle Hanna left a restaurant on Elgin Street and hailed a ride using the Uber app. She said everything seemed normal.
The next morning, she received the email.
"They said that I pissed in the car. Can you imagine a 40-year-old woman peeing in a car?" she said.
Hanna wrote to Uber immediately, disputing the charges. They responded by saying rides are binding agreements.
"They said, 'You signed that contract when you signed up for Uber, and these cleaning fees are on you because the driver said it's you.'"
Under Uber's terms and conditions, passengers are responsible for any damage they cause to the car, inside or out. The cleaning fees imposed by the company range from $20 to $150, depending on the severity of the mess. The fees cover everything from food spills to bodily fluids.
Cleaning charges go directly to the driver and are not refundable, according to Uber.
'They're not budging'
Caroline Dufour was out for a few drinks with a friend on Saturday when they decided to hail a ride through Uber. It was raining when the driver pulled up.
The ride was nice, Dufour said, and they arrived home without incident. Then in the morning, her email arrived.
"They said bodily fluids are biohazardous, and I made [the driver] lose out on other trips."
She said she's contacted Uber dozens of times to demand a refund.
"I messaged them constantly, pestering them ... and they're not budging," Dufour said.
"They prey on drunk people thinking they won't remember. We drank, but we weren't drunk enough to piss ourselves and not remember."
On Monday, Uber offered her a reduced fee of $50, admitting the original charge was "not correct" but providing no more information.
Dufour said the gesture is not enough.
Photos showed wet seats
In the pictures provided to both women, a wet patch on the seat was also visible on the seat back.
"The back of the seat is wet. Seriously, if somebody peed on the seat, it will be just on the seat. Not on the back of the seat," said Hanna.
Uber automatically charges the cleaning fee once they get a complaint from a driver, and only investigates the driver's claim if the passenger disputes it. The investigation may lead to a reduction in the fee, but often it does not, even if the passenger believes it's unfounded.
"In terms of reporting to us when there is a dispute, we recommend riders to be as detailed as possible in their description of events. For example, where you sat in the car relative to where the damage is," Kayla Whaling, an Uber spokesperson, said in an email Monday.
"Drivers must submit photos of the mess/damage shortly after the ride and a description of what happened."
Whaling added that drivers who are found to have submitted false claims can be terminated.
Uber did not respond to specific questions about its fraud investigation process, or whether there's been a rise in false claims resulting in cleaning fees.
City polices companies, not drivers
The City of Ottawa tracks some complaints against ride-hailing services like Uber, but asks patrons to deal directly with the companies. Consequently, only six formal complaints have been made to bylaws services since Uber was licensed in Ottawa.
"As the City licenses private transportation companies, and not their drivers or vehicles, those complaints were referred to Uber directly to investigate and action accordingly," said Roger Chapman with the City's bylaw department.
Of the four women who say they were wrongly charged cleaning fees, only one received a full refund. One got a partial refund, one is still negotiating with the company and one paid the fee.
All four women said they have since deleted the Uber app and will not be using the service again.
Since Oct. 4, 2016, when Uber was licensed, about 5.3 million trips have been completed in Ottawa, according to the city.