Rideshare company Lyft offered rides to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport for more than $1,500 to people looking to evacuate from a Lake Tahoe resort in California to escape the Caldor Fire burning on the state’s border with Nevada, according to the Associated Press. The fee is roughly eight times the standard rate for a ride from Heavenly Valley ski resort to the transportation hub.
A Lyft XL ride from the resort town to Reno normally costs around $200. A enraged resident took to Twitter to share a screenshot of the rates, which showed $1,535 for a minivan or SUV with a minimum of five passengers. According to SFGate, the prices had dropped back to $230 by midday.
Meanwhile, outside the evacuation zone, a hotel and casino in Nevada offered two-night stays for $1,090.72. The rate is nearly four times that of the previous day’s offer for a hotel room.
In statements issued Wednesday, Lyft and Uber said that price increases triggered automatic caps as demand soared around South Lake Tahoe due to emergency evacuations. Lyft stated that it was “reviewing and adjusting fares for certain riders in the region who were impacted.”
Uber announced Monday that fares in some areas had been capped following the declaration of a public state of emergency. It implemented a second cap on Tuesday. Price gouging during natural disasters is not uncommon, but there is currently no federal law prohibiting the practice. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation prohibiting the practice on a state level in September 2020, following intense scrutiny at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when some companies attempted to capitalize on high demand and low supply for products such as toilet paper.
Unlike in California, a price-gouging ban signed by Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak in June does not take effect until October. Its start date prevents officials from policing the issue or taking action other than promising to monitor it.
This week, gas stations near evacuation zones did not appear to have raised their prices significantly.
In the aftermath of the massive fire, officials in both states publicly warned businesses against price gouging, with California Attorney General Rob Bonta, his Nevada counterpart Aaron Ford, and U.S. Representative Mark Amodei urging consumers to report incidents to their offices.
Ford’s office stated on Wednesday that no specific complaints had been received. The information was deemed confidential by Bonta’s office.
The Caldor Fire had burned more than 328 square miles (850 square kilometers) and was only 25% contained on Thursday. On Monday, flames engulfed the California resort town of South Lake Tahoe, forcing officials to order a mass evacuation of all 22,000 residents. People in Douglas County, across the state line, were ordered to leave a day later.
The Montbleu Resort, Casino, and Spa, a 438-room Nevada hotel just blocks from the California border, began offering evacuee discounts, $60 rates for firefighters and first responders, and free lodging for its employees.
For the rest of us, it raised room rates on Tuesday from $120 to $450 per night before taxes and fees. The resort’s vice president-general manager, Tim Tretton, said in a statement Wednesday that the decision was made to discourage tourists from traveling near the wildfire and to keep rooms available for evacuees. He stated that the company intended to refund the difference to those who booked at the higher price.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and 39 states have regulations that limit price gouging during emergencies. Mississippi, which was battered by Hurricane Ida in parts, 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 in the weeks following the storm.
Last week, North Carolina’s attorney general filed a price-gouging lawsuit against a gas station that raised prices for mid-grade and premium gas to $9.99 per gallon after a ransomware attack forced the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, the country’s largest fuel delivery system. Nevada’s anti-price gouging law was passed on a party-line vote in May, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it. Price gouging will be prohibited in areas where the governor has declared a state of emergency.
Following a state or local emergency declaration, California law generally prohibits businesses from raising prices by more than 10%.