(This is the first of a new weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Monday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.)
Passenger safety is definitely a hot topic in the world of ride-sharing. Hardly a week goes by without some local paper printing another incident of an Uber driver robbing or assaulting an unsuspecting victim who just wanted to get home from a party, and more and more local governments are hotly debating whether or not the company’s background checks are doing enough. In actuality your driver is probably more afraid of you–crimes committed by Uber drivers may be slightly over-reported, but assaults of those drivers by intoxicated or irate passengers are far more common and almost completely ignored by the media. Still, that knowledge may not make you feel any safer if you do end up with one of the bad apples, so here’s some advice to greatly increase your odds of not having one of those horrible experiences.
The key thing to know is that ride-share drivers are far more likely to do something immoral or illegal when they’re “off the clock” and the Uber/Lyft apps aren’t tracking their every move. Your job is to make sure you’re on a sanctioned trip at all times.
First of all, make sure you’re in the right car. This will help you avoid fake Uber vehicles that will just take you for a ride… and not the kind you were expecting. The app will give you the name and photo of your driver, the color and model of their vehicle, and the license plate number of their car. Check all of these things before climbing in. You may also want to confirm the driver’s name. A simple “Hi, are you Sekani?” will not only make sure you’re in the right car, but has the added bonus of making the driver feel safer since he or she now knows that they have the right passenger as well. (Oh, unless it’s actually me picking you up, substitute your driver’s name for mine.) In case you’re calling a ride for a friend, make sure your friend has all of this information so they don’t accidentally jump into the wrong vehicle either.
Secondly, don’t accept any rides off the app for cash. Not only is this technically illegal in most markets, but it removes the Big Brother layer of security that keeps track of everything. Every trip you take should be arranged through the app, there should never be a reason to exchange cash unless you’re leaving a tip. Also be wary of offers to end the trip early to save a few dollars. You can dispute fares later if you think you’ve been overcharged, but you do not want to be in a stranger’s car while the app is not running.
Finally, use the buddy system. Don’t let your intoxicated friends ride home alone, go with them and split the cost of the ride later. It’s much harder to be taken advantage of when there’s more than one of you.
Rideshare services are still a convenient, inexpensive, and generally safe way to get around a city from one place to another. Just a little bit of due diligence can help ensure that your next trip is all of the above.
Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!