Ride-sharing programs are becoming as widespread as taxi services across America’s major cities – this year, over 15 million Americans are expected to take advantage of this evolving technology (a 20% rise from last year). Services like Uber and Lyft are tech-based companies in which real people entrust their lives to a stranger. Unlike taxi services, however, these companies are largely remotely managed and regulated, and may have different sets of rules to comply with than the city-mandated taxi services.
On the other hand, Uber is challenging a long-standing monopoly with a convenient and economically friendly amenity. According to the Huffington Post:
Uber, and services like it, are shining a long-awaited and desperately-needed light on the monopoly taxi companies have over us sorry pedestrians who’ve, up ‘til now, had no choice, but to haggle, argue and fist fight just to travel the three or so miles from New York to New Jersey, and vice versa.
Uber is especially popular with young people who are more comfortable using smartphone apps to do things that traditionally required more effort in the past (ordering a pizza, depositing a check, etc.)
The service is also popular with people who live in cities because of its fast, convenient setup; with the single push of a button, you can secure yourself a ride and be on your way within minutes. Uber also takes its payments directly through the app (and it doesn’t accept tips), so that you’re not awkwardly fussing with money and trying to calculate percentages when you reach your destination. Uber has essentially eliminated all of the usual stressors of hailing a ride and created a way to reach a market that might not otherwise consider using a taxi service.
With power, though, comes responsibility, and mainstream media has no shortage of concerns about Uber’s. Whether it’s in terms of accident liability, incidents of violence against both passengers and drivers, or questions about vehicle damage, there are a number of gray areas involved with Uber that people who use its services should be aware of.
Concerns For the Rider
The most obvious and perhaps the most important concern you should have about taking an Uber (or any taxi service) is for your own safety.
Accidents when riding in a taxi or ride share vehicle do happen, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has taken a cab in a major city.
Assaults are a different safety concern for Uber . It is important for anyone who uses these services to be aware of the risks you take when you get into someone else’s vehicle.
In a well publicized case, a driver in Michigan recently went on a shooting spree, killing 6 and injuring 2. Less extreme assaults are rare, but do happen. While Uber does conduct background checks, there are numerous examples of the company failing to act when customers raised concerns.
Be prepared when you do choose to ride in an Uber.
- When possible, don’t take an Uber or taxi alone.
- Use the “send ETA” feature in the Uber app to let a friend know where you are, where you’re going, and when you’re expected to arrive.
- If you feel unsafe for any reason, get out of the vehicle.
Fines and Accusations
When someone signs up to become an Uber driver, they agree to use their own personal vehicle – Uber doesn’t provide them with one, the way a cab company would. Because of this, Uber has specific parameters in place that are designed to protect its drivers’ property.
Uber drivers have been known to take advantage. For example, one rider was charged a $200 cleaning fee despite claiming she didn’t make a mess. Additional charges built into the Uber system, such as damage fees and surge pricing, are good to be aware of before you take your next ride. Keep your driver’s vehicle as clean as you found it, and if accidents do happen, understand what your responsibilities will be. And on the other hand, always be sure to review your “ride receipts” and make sure there aren’t any suspicious charges.
Also, be aware of the difference between UberX and Uber Black, the latter of which can be considerably more expensive (though that is not always made clear by the app). An UberX is the most basic service – any old car with any old driver (though Uber is now rolling out UberPool services in some cities, in which you can share an UberX with other riders for a cheaper price). An Uber Black is essentially a limousine.
How are you protected?
Uber claims to have a million dollar liability insurance policy per accident, but in reality you are most likely at the mercy of your own auto insurance company if an accident happens while you’re riding in an Uber. For this reason (and a myriad of other reasons), you should make sure you are investing in a full-tort insurance policy, and have sufficient medical coverage on your auto policy as well as UM and UIM (uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage). Learn more here. (Carpey Law has written many books and articles on the subject of having proper insurance coverage – search our site to find even more information!)
Concerns For the Driver
Uber drivers, are required to have auto insurance. Uber and Lyft provide their drivers with some supplemental insurance to accompany their own personal insurance, but these companies are still fairly new, which means their policies are often changing and evolving. Be sure to keep up with the details of Uber’s coverage so that you’re aware of your liability.
One of the controversial aspects of Uber and Lyft is the fact that its drivers are not considered employees in the traditional sense. They do not earn a minimum wage, they cannot apply for unemployment benefits, and the vehicle and equipment they use is their own. For this reason, you can never be too careful as an Uber driver.
Riders aren’t the only people in Uber vehicles who need to be conscious of their safety. There have been reported cases of passengers assaulting Uber drivers. If you’re an Uber driver, it would be wise to take measures to protect yourself. Keep the police and Uber security on speed dial while you’re driving, and always be aware of your surroundings should the need to pull over arise.
Other Ride Share Programs
The idea for a female-only Uber service was started by Michael Pelletz, who drove for Uber for 17 hours a day. He picked up a man one night who caused him to fear for his safety – the man seemed to have no idea who or where he was and kept reaching into his back pocket. He eventually flagged down a police officer for help, but the idea stuck with him. He worried what would have happened had he been a female driver in such a situation; thus, SafeHer was born.
SafeHer is like any other ride-sharing service but with a few extra safety features.
- They only hire female drivers.
- They use a more thorough background check system than Uber or Lyft does.
- The app also sends the driver and the rider each a unique code when someone requests a ride. Before the rider gets in the car, the driver and the rider make sure their codes match.
Last year, BuzzFeed found screenshots that purported to show thousands of claims against Uber involving rape and sexual assault. Shortly after this discovery, Uber admitted that it had overstated the thoroughness of its background checks. The safety issue is the number-one concern for Uber riders, and rightfully so, given the evidence.
Ride share services for kids are becoming a new niche in the Uber market. Busy families mean parents can’t always get their children to various activities at various points during the week – HopSkipDrive allows parents to schedule rides for their children, meet the driver, and track the ride along its route.
This service is currently only available in certain parts of Northern California; there are obvious safety concerns involved with a ride share service for kids, and it’s unclear whether the business model will really take off.
Uber in Philadelphia
Like other major cities across the globe, Uber’s presence in Philadelphia has become increasingly significant during the past several years. This data from NYC shows the trend that most big cities in our area are currently experiencing.
The number of Uber vehicles on the road in NYC has significantly surpassed the number of NYC taxis on the road, and the number just keeps climbing.
With so many Uber vehicles on the road and so many rides being taken every day, there are bound to be incidents like the ones we mentioned above: assaults, accidents, and mishaps. These things can happen anywhere, including our city. You can never be too careful when using a ride sharing service, nor is there such a thing is taking too many safety precautions.
If you’ve been the victim of an Uber-related accident or assault, contact us for a free consultation.