Editor's note: This column appears in a point-counterpoint regarding Uber regulations. Read this column's corresponding counterpoint here.
Uber’s growth in the last six years has been astronomical, but has often come at the price of safety. As the ride-sharing service’s influence continues to expand in Austin, it is important that the city holds Uber to a high standard.
It is no secret that Uber has received safety complaints from its users, especially from women. Sexual assaults, kidnapping and harassment from drivers have all occurred in recent years, not to mention one incident in France where Uber appears to have partnered with an escort service. This is an extreme example, but the bottom line is that Uber alienates and sometimes directly threatens half of its clientele.
Uber’s current safety measures are little more than a façade. Background checks are inconsistent at best, sometimes allowing convicted felons to slip through. Uber’s training is half as long as a taxi company’s and focuses mainly on using the Uber software. The system itself has been called a driving distraction, especially following the death of 6 year old girl by a driver who ran her over while he was busy finding a fare. Some drivers don’t receive any training beyond a 13-minute video. Even if drivers want to improve their safety, they have to pay out of pocket for further training.
Even something as mundane as pricing is abused. During a hostage situation in Sydney’s central business district last December, Uber’s surge pricing kicked in and raised rates 400 percent. While police evacuated people from a potentially life-threatening situation, Uber was making travel four times more costly. Uber later refunded the extra costs, but it is obvious that the surge was not just an algorithmic “mistake” — consider that when hurricane Sandy hit New York City and public transportation was out of service, Uber doubled its prices. Uber’s cutthroat business practices reflect an institutionalized disregard for safety.
Uber has argued that the complaints commonly heard about the safety of its service are just anecdotes. They are right, and that is part of the problem. Only Uber knows the extent of its drivers’ transgressions and customer complaints, but the company is either unable or unwilling to share. Even police can’t access this information.
Ride sharing isn’t a lost cause, but safety concerns are not something that should be easily dismissed. When companies aren’t taking powerful steps to ensure the well-being of their customers, the cities that host them must do so with their own regulations.
Hallas is a Plan II and human development freshman from Allen. Follow her on Twitter @LauraHallas.