It’s disgusting, it’s duplicitous, and apparently, it’s being done in Uber cars across the United States. A number of reports have surfaced claiming that Uber drivers are planting fake vomit in their cars to collect cleaning fees from unsuspecting customers. The latest alleged victim of such a scandal is Manhattan-based art director Meredith Mandel, who says that her Uber driver placed yellow vomit around his car’s dashboard and floor mats and said that it was Mandel’s doing. This resulted in a $200 cleaning charge, one that Mandel denies she’s responsible for.
In an interview with Gothamist, Mandel laid out the entire story. In the wee hours of the morning of February 21, she, her boyfriend, and another friend left a restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and hailed an Uber to return them to their respective Williamsburg residences. The unremarkable Uber ride ended just before 1:30 a.m., and Mandel went to bed thinking nothing more of what should have been a mundane car experience.
But when she checked her bill in the morning, she found that a $200 cleaning fee had been tacked on to her $19 fare, with no explanation as to why. When she reached out to customer service, she began piecing together the company’s justification, based largely upon the claim, “The driver let us know that there was a mess on the trip resulting in the need for a car cleaning.” One representative told her that her driver noted that she had been drunk, and another customer service email informed Mandel that “the cleaning fee goes 100 percent to your driver.”
This, Mandel said, really set the warning lights off in her head. “I was infuriated, because I realized that it actually is a scam,” she told the Gothamist. “At first I was trying to actually give them the benefit of a doubt, but I realized [it] because all of the money goes to the drivers.”
So she began to build her case against the allegations, coming to a number of conclusions. First of all, she notes, the photos of her so-called vomit show that some landed front seat of the car, which would’ve been impossible given that all three passengers were in the back. Secondly, she notes, the mess was only on parts of the car that could be easily washed. Third, “when she uploaded the photos to a metadata scraping website, no time or date was attached to the photos,” and when Gothamist did the same, they reached the same conclusion. Even the color of the vomit was problematic, Mandel says. “The vomit is super yellow, and we ate really dark food, like meat,” she recalled. “It just doesn’t line up.”
Mandel also notes that her dinner party simply wasn’t drunk when they got into their Uber. “Dinner literally lasted two and a half hours, and me and one other girl in the car had two really small glasses of wine,” she said. “My boyfriend had two beers. This is over two and a half hours, so we were basically sober by the end.”
While Mandel’s $200 charge has since been retracted (with the evidence she provides, how could it not be?) she says that she’s sworn off the ride-hailing service. So check your Uber fares, friends. You never know what else you’re being billed for.