Uber is unsafe. Lyft, SideCar, and other ride-sharing services are unsafe. At the very least, there is the question of their safety for passengers. And why? Because they represent a new type of technology, a new way of doing things, and that is inherently scary.
Never mind that it’s more difficult to commit a crime using these new transportation services than it would be for a regular old taxi or gypsy cab driver. And never mind that these fears are being stirred up by the emergence of a single allegation over the past six months of one individual acting badly. Never mind all that, because a few people are apparently freaking out over the potential for new ride-sharing services to enable widespread criminal activity.
These fears are being driven by the resurfacing of a single case in Washington, D.C., where one of Uber’s drivers was accused of sexually assaulting a customer after driving her home. The allegation, which first came to light back in December, resulted in a driver contracted by one of Uber’s partners being arrested on Thursday. But he was soon after released without being charged.
And as a result, Uber itself has been accused of “letting the issue of safety slip.” The problem is, the company typically partners with third-party limo and taxi services to pre-vet drivers, doing background checks and ensuring that they have all the necessary licenses or permits. City to city, Uber drivers are required to abide by whatever local regulations are in their jurisdiction. If driving for UberBLACK, that means having whatever license or permit is required to operate a livery vehicle. If it’s UberTAXI, drivers need a local medallion to operate. Only in San Francisco — and last week, in Austin — does Uber operate a so-called “ride-sharing service,” where drivers don’t have those types of licenses or permits.
And that’s where things start to get tricky, when making the argument that Uber is somehow delinquent in its hiring practices. For the most part, Uber and its partners follow the same regulations all the usual cab or limo services do. Which is to say, if Uber’s regulations are soft, so are those that are followed by every other taxi or limo service out there.
Do a quick search on Google or Google News for “cab driver rape” and you’ll find no shortage of articles detailing such cases. What stands out about the news stories in those links is the unfortunate and sad truth that sexual assaults by taxi drivers are not as unusual as they should be.
But Uber’s got something that regular taxi or limo services don’t have. So do SideCar and Lyft. They have an identity system that connects a driver to a ride. They have rating systems to help determine which drivers are doing a good job, and which aren’t. They have feedback systems through which unhappy passengers can report something that went wrong. And, in the case of a crime, they have time, date, and ride logs so they can quickly identify perpetrators. Which means, if you were a criminal and somehow got through the pre-vetting process for any of these new services, you’d have to be an absolute idiot to commit a crime while on the job.
Hopefully, if you’re the type to try out new things, and you’re not scared by the idea of using technology to make your life better, that will provide some comfort to you.
Disclosure: TechCrunch founder and current columnist Michael Arrington is a general partner at CrunchFund, which is an investor in Uber.