How Safe Are Ride Shares?

(Dan Gold)

By Elizabeth Duluc

New York City’s ride-sharing services are undergoing big changes with the increasing use of taxi apps such as Uber, Lyft, and Juno. The apps have significantly changed who becomes a driver and what that vetting process entails. Uber says all its drivers are screened for driving violations, impaired driving, and violent crime. Drivers must be over 21 and have at least one year’s driving history. The company also says it does annual checks of its drivers for any later driving violations or crime.

However, in December, Uber published a report detailing the number of criminal incidents in the car service, with 3,045 sexual assaults in 2018 and 2,936 in 2017. There were 10 homicides in 2017 and nine in 2018. Passengers were the majority of the victims in these cases, but there were some incidents where drivers were attacked.

Uber 2017-2018 Safety Report

In its safety report, the company goes to great lengths to put this data in context, by comparing it to the sex offenses in the New York City transit system. “The NYPD received 1,125 complaints of sex offenses in the transit system during the same time period covered by this report.”

Uber has had several deaths due to passengers not checking license plates and has had to release several statements to keep riders safe. People pose as drivers and pick up passengers, who hop in believing it is the car they hailed. Samantha Josephson, 21, fell victim to a fake Uber on March 29, 2018, when she hailed a car from a club near the University of South Carolina. At about 2 AM Josephson can be seen in surveillance footage getting into a black Chevy Impala.

The driver, Nathaniel David Rowland, was caught the next day with blood in his car and Josephson’s cellphone. Her body was found 14 hours after her disappearance by turkey hunters, 90 miles away. After Samantha Josephson’s death, state lawmakers in South Carolina proposed a law that requires ride-share drivers to display a lighted sign from their driving company.

Uber 2017-2018 Safety Report

Claudia Goris, 42, an Uber rider passenger shared her concerns about the app. “I’ve only used it a handful of times recently and it’s a nice service but I read all these reports online with fake Ubers, a new kidnapping,” said Goris. “My friend’s daughter had run away but she was last seen in an Uber. No one knew if it was a kidnapping or her running away with all these stories. She was found but her being in the Uber changed everything.”

Gregory Reyes uses the app on and off and says he feels it is safer than a taxi. “The app is convenient, it’s easier to get a taxi,” says Reyes. “The cars are specific to you and you get more information and the rides are cheaper. I use it when I’m going home late, my friends usually make me take one for safety purposes.”

Cutris Antwi, a platinum member on the app, also says he doesn’t feel unsafe. Antwi has been using the app since 2017 and says the crime reports don’t change his mind using Uber. “It’s just people have to be more aware of their surroundings and where they’re going,” he said. “They have to pay attention to the app because they have the plate number.”

Uber has issued new safety features in the app to help riders feel safe, such as an option to share your ride with family members who can view the drive on a live map with driver information. There has also been a 911 emergency button put in for riders to use while on a trip.

Uber 2017-2018 Safety Report

Crimes have primarily been committed by drivers but sometimes they are the victims. “When I first started driving, I was scared the whole time,” says Segarra. “I still am, but I’m more comfortable. Anyone can get in your car, especially since I’m a woman. You never know who it is.”

Alex Gomez has been Uber driver for three years. He joined the app to make an additional income with flexible hours.  He says he sometimes  feels unsafe at night when he picks up an unexpected rider.  “You think you’re going to pick up ‘Alex’ but it ends up being Alex’s friend ‘David,’ who’s using the app,” said Gomez. “It’s uncomfortable sometimes because there’s no way to track it back.”  Gomez also says things can get uncomfortable if passengers are under the influence, “That’s probably been my most uncomfortable riders,” he says, “those who are obnoxiously drunk. You want to make sure that they’re safe and you’re safe.”

While U.S cities are concerned about safety, in other countries the apps can pose an even bigger risk for drivers and riders. Susan, a driver currently in Jacksonville, Florida, (who asked not to be fully named) said that she had to leave South Africa after there was violence against Uber drivers for taking away profits from regular cab drivers. “There were incidents where passengers and drivers were at risk of being attacked randomly for using the app,” she said. “It’s awful and really scary.”

Fans of the apps cite lower prices and convenience. However, these advantages do not necessarily work in favor of the drivers. The new competition for the lowest taxi prices has decreased profits for all drivers. For some, the financial strain has proved too much. In 2018, eight professional drivers committed suicide in New York City. The majority were in their 50s and 60s and all mentioned their financial worries because ride apps threatened their livelihoods.

The loss of business for regular cabs, as well as higher traffic congestion rates, has caused the city to take action and place a cap on the number of app drivers allowed to roam the city. Uber and Lyft drivers also reduced the time drivers could roam passenger-free from 41 percent to 31 percent.

Rosa Segarra, an Uber driver of three years, says the app now gives her less driving time. “They recently made changes to when you can drive,” said Segarra. “Before I used to be able to get in my car and drive whenever but now they have reservation times to drive. It’s not my full time job but I know people who got off the app because of the new limits they set.”

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