Responding to criticism for charging at least $100 for rides out of Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD), which is under lockdown following an ongoing hostage crisis at a cafe, Uber announced Monday that it would offer free rides from the area to help people safely evacuate the area.

Earlier on Monday, the company nearly quadrupled its rates, after the Lindt Chocolat Café at Martin Place became the scene of a hostage crisis. The CBD was put under lockdown as police surrounded the area to secure the release of the hostages. Uber's surge-pricing policy, which the company applies to emergency situations that typically trigger "off the charts" demand, has long been contested, Mashbale reported.

The company later said, in a statement, that it will reimburse passengers who had been charged extra during the time when the surge pricing was in place, but added that the higher rates were still in place to encourage more drivers to come online and pick passengers up from the area.

“We are all concerned with the events happening in Sydney. Uber Sydney will be providing free rides out of the CBD to help Sydneysiders get home safely,” the company said, in a statement, adding: “Please note that surge pricing only remains in place to encourage more drivers to come online and pick up passengers from the area.”

People reacted angrily on social media to Uber’s decision to increase the rates during the hostage crisis.

Meanwhile, New South Wales Police (NSW) said that there was at least one gunman inside the building with an undisclosed number of hostages. Later, local reports also said that three people had left the cafe where the hostages were forced to hold an Islamic flag pressed against the window. It was not immediately clear if the people had escaped or had been released.

“Again, it’s a flag that we’ve had people looking at. We’re trying to work out what it stands for but at this stage it’s probably best that I don’t take that any further. We’re working with our partner agencies to better determine what it is we’re dealing with there,” Andrew Scipione, NSW police commissioner, said, according to The Guardian.