There’s a cellphone app for just about everything nowadays, and getting a ride from point A to point B is no exception. Founded in 2009, Uber, an app-based car-hiring service headquartered in San Francisco, now operates in 260 cities and 45 countries.
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How Uber Works
Uber is a ride referral service. Unlike cab companies, Uber drivers use their personal cars and pay for their gas and expenses. The company is primarily a social network platform for passengers and drivers. Uber’s smartphone app connects riders with drivers using GPS technology. The company processes payments, which are made by passengers via the credit card they added to Uber’s platform at signup. Uber takes a cut from each fare and direct deposits the rest of the money into the driver’s account.
Uber rides are usually considerably cheaper than a standard cab fare. Savings drop when you use the service during peak times when surge pricing is in effect. At such times, which include rush hour traffic hours, you can expect to pay much higher rates than usual.
Uber also features a unique rating system. After an Uber ride is complete, both the driver and passenger rate one another. Riders comment on aspects such as the promptness of the service and cleanliness of the vehicle. Drivers rate the behavior of the passengers. While this rating can be helpful for drivers and users, the rating isn’t without its downsides. Bad overall ratings, whether well-founded or not, can mean a driver gets deactivated and a passenger can get blacklisted.
The Risks For Passengers
Uber seems like an ideal solution for “seamlessly” connecting riders and drivers. As a passenger, if you need a ride, you request one with a push of a button on your smartphone and a driver is on his or her way.
Need some cash? Have a car that is less than 10 years old (or newer) and a clear driving record? Apply to be a Uber driver. It only takes a few minutes.
Like many things in life that read well on paper, it turns out that Uber can be a risky choice for passengers and drivers. Before hailing an Uber car, consider the following.
Lack Of Professional Driving Qualifications
Cab drivers are held to certain standards. For instance, in San Francisco where Uber is based, cab drivers must show proof of residency, good health and hygiene, and have a driver’s license. They must also speak English, have a clean criminal record, and they must complete taxi driving training. In Los Angeles, prospective taxi drivers must be fingerprinted and pass a nationwide FBI criminal background check.
In comparison, Uber drivers can be just about anyone who has a relatively new car in working order. However, Uber does inspect vehicles to ensure they are in good condition.
Faulty Background Check System
While Uber does claim to perform a DMV and a federal/multi-state criminal background check that goes back seven years, these checks don’t always work as they should. NBC4 did a three-month-long investigation of Uber and found multiple cases of drivers with criminal records. This included drivers convicted of burglary, battery and assault, and drunk and reckless driving.
One person NBC4 interviewed was a convicted felon with a violent past. The news team asked the woman, a reformed ex-convict with a 20-year rap sheet that included burglary, drug possession, and assault, to apply to become an Uber driver. She filled out an online application and agreed to a background check. Four weeks later, Uber sent her notification that her background check cleared and she was ready to drive. She didn’t, however, actually transport any passengers.
However, it’s not just Uber. A similar investigation by NBC Bay Area found that “professional” cab drivers can have lengthy traffic records and receive multiple public complaints but face few consequences.
Because drivers for Uber are classified as independent contractors, the company denies any liability when things go wrong, which they do. Such as in October 2014 when a woman was abducted by a driver and taken 20 miles out of her way to an abandoned lot. Worse was the attack on Roberto Chicas by an Uber driver who hit him in the head with a hammer and left him on the side of the road.
When you download the company’s app, you agree to terms and conditions by default, including the fact that Uber absolves itself of anything that happens to you—be it an accident, injury, theft, physical attack, rape or death. The worse case up to date was the killing rampage of Jason Dalton in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on February 20th of 2016. Dalton had only been an Uber driver for a few weeks when he went on a shooting spree and killed six of his passengers.
Of course, licensed cab companies have also been known to not accept responsibility when their drivers misbehave. One passenger, Ludwig, in San Francisco was picked up by what appeared to be a Yellow Cab driver who then refused to take him home. During the abduction, the cab driver shattered Ludwig’s leg who later required a titanium rod that ran from his ankle to his knee. The driver was never found or held responsible, and neither was the Yellow Cab company.
Risks For Drivers
Uber can also be a dicey proposition for drivers, who may risk more than they realize when they turn independent taxi driver.
When it comes to safety, there have been a few reports of Uber drivers being attacked, such as a recent assault on a driver by an off-duty Boston police officer. Another driver was attacked in December when a passenger broke his jaw.
The biggest risks for drivers seem to be financial. In the case of the driver whose jaw was broken, the week spent in the hospital was his financial responsibility, since he’s not an employee of Uber and therefore not covered under workman’s compensation.
Drivers put wear and tear on their vehicles and pay all of their expenses, including gas and maintenance. Insurance is another issue. Most car insurance policies don’t cover drivers when they are working as a driver for a car sharing company, such as Uber or Lyft.
Though drivers report that rates were once lucrative and could offset the risks and expenses, over the past year rates fell, and the percentage taken by Uber rose to 20 percent. This is despite or perhaps because the company, which is venture-backed, is valued at $18.2 billion.
Drivers are supposed to make about $25 per hour, according to Uber, but after you deduct gas, maintenance, vehicle wear and tear, insurance, and hidden fees imposed by the company, drivers report the hourly rate as being $10 to $15 an hour. This was the case with San Francisco native Claire Callahan Goodman, a former software engineer who is now a mom and tried driving for Uber as a flexible way to make cash. After trying driving for Uber for a while, she quit when she did the math.
Unlike traditional cabbies, Uber drivers can’t offset the low pay with tips, as the company’s pitch to passengers of a “cashless experience” makes tipping not allowed.
Traveling always involves some level of risk, no matter what form of transportation you use. Riding with (or being) a licensed taxi driver is certainly not without its risks. I use Uber regularly, and I’ve yet to have a bad experience. I have also spoken to many Uber drivers who enjoy their work and only wish they had started sooner. However, there is no getting around the fact that using Uber instead of a traditional cab service is cheaper, at least in part, because the company side-steps regulations and safety checks that are designed to protect passengers and drivers.