It’s raining outside and you step into the street and raise your arm to hail some sort of transportation, only to be passed by the yellow cabs time and time again. There are not enough taxis to accommodate the need, however there is an alternative: an Uber driver.
With Uber having a 400 percent increase during 2013 to 2014, the fastest growing driving opportunity is becoming less expensive and more accessible than typical taxi services. But is it safer?
Uber has three requirements to become a driver. They require their drivers to be 21 years old, have a car model from 2000 (or 2005 in some cities) or later and pass a background check.
The question that is posed is, based on these basic requirements, can this really be the safest form of transportation?
Former Uber driver and Montclair State University student Eddie Chumpitazi said, “I was really surprised at how easy it was for me to become an Uber driver. There was no interview process, just a background check. I did question it at first until they asked for me to complete a background check. That’s when I thought they were legitimate.”
Even though a person applying to be an Uber driver goes through a background check, a passenger does not go through the same process. Just as a passenger has to trust that the driver is safe, the driver has to trust the passenger.
In addition, Uber issues its independent contractors their own Uber issued-phones to complete transactions and give the driver a GPS system. This allows Uber to be aware of where the driver is at all times while the driver is working and waiting to pick up fares.
Another safety perk of the issued phone, Chumpitazi explained, is that all transactions are connected to credit card information as payment. Being that there is no cash that ever exchanges hands, Chumpitazi says this made him feel safer because he felt that it decreased the probability of being “held up.”
However, when asked if he felt safe if his mother, sister or another female of importance were to decide she wanted to be an independent contractor with Uber, Chumpitazi said, “Every region and area has areas that are not as safe as others. Where I’m in, I’m close to Elizabeth and Newark. One night I even had to drive to Trenton. That would make me more nervous. If they did it in the daylight, I would not mind. At night, it would make me feel uncomfortable knowing the area they would be driving in.”
Not everyone has this hesitation when using Uber. Kelly Anne Davis, a Montclair State graduate student, says as a female student, she finds Uber “a little sketchy. However, when I’m with my group of friends, I feel it’s okay to use because I’m never alone. I would never use Uber alone, though.”
When Davis was asked about the safety concerns of Uber, she said that “I can’t trust the driver. I have to trust myself. I just try to make sure I’m in a safe situation by not being alone and by almost always having a guy friend in the Uber. My best friend’s brother is really good about [making] sure all of us are taken care of and safe. He’s like everyone’s big brother.”
However, according to Stephanie Hemsel, a Teacher’s Assistant at another New Jersey university, Uber can do no wrong. “Personally, all my experiences with Uber have been fine. There was only one time that my girlfriends and I had a rude driver, but really that’s probably because we were a bunch of girls being loud after a night out.”
Hemsel said that she has had more issues taxing yellow cabs in New York City than she has had with Uber. “One cab driver even tried to scam me and charge me over $150. I’d rather take the risk with an Uber driver than drive under the influence.”
Hemsel continued to say that she felt safe with the Uber app because the passenger can see a picture of the driver before getting into the car. However, one is not able to request a driver. Hemsel explains that, overall, she would still not take transportation by herself because she doesn’t feel comfortable, no matter the form of transportation.
Regardless of the individual choices and preferences made, it does not change the fact that safety is still a concern when customers instill trust in a company that hires independent contractors. There are regular reports of Uber drivers sexually assaulting passengers.
According to Buzzfeed, Marian Ryan – District Attorney for Middlesex County, Mass., for an aggravated rape, kidnapping and assault and battery case on a former Uber driver from Boston – said “The [driver] preyed upon a young woman who trusted that he was who he portrayed himself to be.”
Ryan continues encouraging the public to take necessary precautions when using any transportation services and for customers to make sure that they are verifying license plates and makes and models of vehicles before entering said vehicle.