First the flames, then the costs: evacuees from Tahoe report rising prices
STATELINE, Nevada – As fearful Lake Tahoe residents packed their belongings and fled a raging wildfire toward the California-Nevada border, some encountered an unexpected hurdle: rising prices.
A rideshare company reported a charge of more than $ 1,500 to be transported from the smoky Heavenly Valley Ski Resort to security at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, about eight times the going rate. A Nevada hotel and casino outside the evacuation order area announced a two-night stay for $ 1,090.72, nearly four times the midweek rate offered a day earlier.
Reports of price increases appear regularly during natural disasters and attracted new attention early in the pandemic, when some companies tried to capitalize on panic over demand for toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Although no federal law prohibits it in an emergency, at least a dozen state houses have tackled the price hike since last year, including in Nevada and California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill banning the practice last September.
Unlike California, however, a Nevada price hike ban signed by Gov. Steve Sisolak in June does not come into effect until October. Its start date prevents officials from monitoring the problem and taking action beyond the promise to monitor it.
“We hope good traders don’t participate in the price hike,” Sisolak said Tuesday in Carson City, where ash particles from the Caldor fire rained from the sky. “They are going to participate in trying to make their products available to as many people as possible.”
Officials in both states have publicly warned companies in the shadow of the massive fire against price hikes, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, his Nevada counterpart Aaron Ford and U.S. Representative Mark Amodei asking consumers report incidents to their offices.
Ford’s office said on Wednesday it had not received any specific complaints. Bonta said the information was confidential.
The Caldor fire had calmed down considerably by Friday but was still a few miles from the California resort town of South Lake Tahoe. On Monday, the flames rushed towards the city so quickly that authorities ordered the mass evacuation of 22,000 residents. People across the border in Douglas County were ordered to leave a day later.
The Montbleu Resort, Casino and Spa – a towering 438-room Nevada hotel a few blocks from the California Line – has started offering evacuee discounts, $ 60 rates for firefighters and first responders, and a free hosting for its employees.
For everyone else, he increased the room rate Tuesday from $ 120 to $ 450 per night before taxes and fees.
Tim Tretton, the resort’s vice president and general manager, said in a statement Wednesday that he did so to deter tourists from traveling near the wildfire and to keep rooms available for evacuees. The company planned to refund the difference to those who booked at the higher price, he said.
“We do not and do not plan to charge on these rates, and have provided refunds or discounts where appropriate,” Tretton said.
Leaving South Lake Tahoe has also become more expensive for some travelers.
A 60 mile Lyft XL ride from town to Reno normally costs around $ 200. On Tuesday, it nearly increased eightfold as people rushed to fight the flames.
An irate resident shared a screenshot of the fares on Twitter, showing $ 1,535 for a van or SUV for a minimum of five passengers. SFGate reported that costs fell back to $ 230 by noon.
Lyft and Uber said in statements Wednesday that price hikes were triggering automatic caps as demand soared around South Lake Tahoe amid emergency evacuations. Lyft said it was “reviewing and adjusting fares for certain passengers who have been affected in the area.”
“When demands for rides exceed the number of drivers on the road, prime-time pricing – high rates designed to bring more drivers into high-demand areas – is automatically activated,” the company said. “When we realized how much the evacuation order affected Lyft prices, we immediately put a cap in place and ultimately suspended prime-time pricing.”
Uber said fares in some locations were capped Monday after identifying a public state of emergency. He decreed a second cap on Tuesday.
Gas stations around evacuation areas did not appear to have raised prices significantly this week.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Puerto Rico, Washington, DC and 39 states have regulations limiting price increases in the event of an emergency.
Mississippi, parts of which were hit by Hurricane Ida, tightened penalties in its predatory pricing law in 2006, months after Hurricane Katrina caused widespread destruction and supply shortages caused caused long lines for gasoline in the first few weeks after the storm.
The North Carolina Attorney General filed a price hike complaint last week against a gas station that raised prices for mid-grade and premium gas to $ 9.99 per gallon after a ransomware attack forced the Colonial Pipeline – the largest fuel delivery system in the United States – to shut down.
Nevada’s anti-price law was passed in a party line vote in May, with Democrats for and Republicans against. The law will ban price increases in areas where the governor has declared a state of emergency.
California law generally prohibits companies from increasing their prices by more than 10% following a declaration of emergency from a state or locality.
“If you see price increases – or have been a victim of them – I encourage you to immediately file a complaint with my online office at oag.cag.gov/report, or contact your local police department. local or sheriff’s office. said Bonta.