Uber: There should be no compromises in passenger safety

Uber passengers should feel safe and secure everytime they use the app.

I have been using Uber in south Florida for over three years, completed over 500 trips and have maintained a 4.89 rating. As a rider, I typically use the rideshare app to get home from work at night. After all, for me, the service is affordable and the trip usually only takes about 20 minutes. I feel like stepping into an Uber is like venturing into the wild west of rideshare technology. I rarely feel comfortable that the trip will go as expected. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi recently told CNN that “Tech companies need to abandon their previous laissez-faire approach to policing their own platforms.” Uber stated in another post that they plan on hosting 50 community forums nationwide for advocates, leaders, drivers and riders across to talk about these issues. I am looking forward to forums starting someday.

“Is a box of cargo more important than my safety?”

I am posting today to draw some attention to what Uber has done in terms of improving passenger safety and what I believe they still need to do. I work in security and occupational safety so the state checks on us pretty consistently. Who is checking on the Uber drivers? Unfortunately, after they start driving for Uber only the passengers are. To draw some comparisons school and city bus drivers have to go through some lengthy training and licensing to drive passengers around. Similarly, commercial truck drivers have to pass extraordinary screens and complete some lengthy training to safely transport cargo.

Over the years, I have encountered seemingly every conceivable type of Uber driver and I would briefly like to describe some of those experiences. I have taken trips with non-English speaking drivers who somehow ended up outside of Miami with no clear understanding of where they’re going. Simply communicating with these drivers is challenging at best and stressful at worst. I had to learn probably one hundred words in Espanol so I can better communicate with these drivers. I have also encountered the rage ball driver who drives aggressively, runs lights and curses at other drivers. Those drivers are possibly minutes away from a stroke. Like many trips, I simply grit my teeth, stay quiet and sweat while counting the minutes until I get dropped off. Next, there is the political driver who has talk radio blasting from the car speakers from the moment I get in. In my 20 minute ride with this clown, he tries his hardest to win me over with his political choices. Next, there is the charismatic driver. He spends his time fixing his hair, dodging incoming calls from an angry girlfriend while at the same time defending his choices of hooking up with any girl who smiles at him. Finally, there is the sweaty driver, who prays during the ride asking God to keep his car running while he completes the most important trip of his life.

While you may see problems with these characters, I see opportunities to help improve the rideshare experience and improve passenger safety for those using the Uber app. Naturally Uber is concerned with its image and views rider safety as a priority. Therefore as a rider, the personal safety of those utilizing the app has also become a top priority of mine.

“I would like to see more balanced pre-safety policies put into place.”

Uber has made some good improvements to help ensure that passengers feel more safe and secure while they’re using the app. However, I would like to see more balanced pre-safety policies put into place so passengers also feel more confident that the driver they are paired with has been screened at least as well as a school bus driver. This is done with stricter licensing requirements, on-going training, vehicle checks and improved communication with local law enforcement. Pre-safety policies improve safety before the passenger steps into an Uber vehicle.

Recently Uber introduced a suite of secondary safety features into the app in part help riders feel more secure while using the platform. These safety features can only be utilized after you are in the car and on a trip. For instance while on the trip riders can optionally share their exact trip location with loved ones. Additionally, riders can call 911 right from within the app and the app is also now capable of automatically sending exact location information directly to the 911 operator. Finally, to help improve privacy, Uber will anonymize all of its trip data so that drivers cannot recall any exact pickup and drop-off locations after a trip is over.

I would like to see Uber create area road supervisors. I believe this step could help improve the rideshare experience, enhance the reporting of crimes and make passengers feel even safer. Uber already encourages passengers to report any drivers who fail to meet the standards of their rideshare service. But simply relying on passengers to police the platform is not enough.

“I have been in some odd smelling, axle grinding, coolant leaking death traps.”

I have been on Uber trips where the vehicle tires failed, engines overheated and brakes that squealed to a stop way out in the middle of the intersection. I have been inside some odd smelling, axle grinding, coolant leaking death traps; many vehicles that seem to be barely holding themselves together. Even the sweaty drivers’ prayers could not get me from point A to point B when we ended up on the side of the road with a flat tire.

Passengers should do what they can to protect themselves when they get into an Uber. When an Uber car arrives to pick me up I always take note of the license plate on the vehicle to see if it matches what’s listed in the app. When the Uber trip starts I ask drivers a series of questions in part to make them feel more comfortable. I ask “How late do you drive?” If the driver answers midnight or 2:00 AM, then I am not too concerned. If they answer that they plan on driving until they make a certain amount of money, then my pulse starts to quicken because now they are putting their financial interests possibly ahead of passenger safety.

Focusing on the road for hours certainly causes driver fatigue, which can lead to accidents. Even commercial truck drivers can only drive 11 hours a day. I have seen Uber drivers zone out, drift into other lanes and even rub curbs with the tires. I sometimes ask the driver about their most unusual trip to see how they respond. This question is designed to give me an idea as to how professional they are. If the driver describes in detail some awful experience with a passenger then it suggests to me that they probably cannot be trusted with maintaining a passenger’s privacy. Now I do not expect them to be cold and thoughtless, but I expect them not to divulge any trip information about any previous passenger that they have encountered. Am I being too critical? Perhaps, but…

“There should be no compromises in passenger safety.”

While our conversation continues, I take a mental note of how clean the driver keeps their vehicle. It is not fair to expect the exterior of the car to be clean and detailed because the driver may have been on the road for hours. I do however expect the interior to be reasonably clean, especially the interior backseat windows where typically the passengers sit. The driver gets big points simply by keeping the windows clean and the interior free of any odd smells.

I have been on Twitter for over eight years often posting legal news, security concerns and lately reporting about the gig economy. The other day I posted a story about an Uber driver who propositioned a passenger for sex in exchange for a free ride to work.

That tweet was my highest engaged tweet ever in eight years. Uber has stated that they have an organizing principle of doing the right thing. They have also stated that enhancing the safety of the platform for women will, in turn, enhance it for everyone. I believe that begins with the screening process you employ to determine who drives on your platform. Uber should use the utmost care in deciding who drives, while at the same time creating a series of pre-safety checks and balances to better protect the passengers who utilize the app.

Security and occupational safety are two of my responsibilities during my day-to-day. This passion carries over into the frequent trips with Uber.