Uber: Is the ride worth the risk?

Like many Chapman students, freshman communication major Kristen Jung turned to the driver-finding app Uber when she and a friend wanted a reliable ride to a party one February night. They never expected their experience would end with them abandoned and alone in a dark and unfamiliar area.

“He basically told us to get out and he left us there, stranded,” Jung said.

Their driver, for reasons that are still unclear, had taken them to a “completely wrong address.”

“It was dark and there was no one around and it was a weird, sketchy area,” Jung said.  “We didn’t know where we were, either, so we had to walk around and find an address.”

This experience, a contradiction of the app’s reputation for being a safe service with pre-screened and competent drivers, was not an isolated incident. This is just one issue named in the past few years in various police reports drawn up on Uber drivers, but students continue to use the service because they believe it to be a safe alternative way to get home. Since the service’s creation in 2009, it now delivers an average of two million rides every day to over 300 cities worldwide, yet in early February Uber reportedly spent around $30 million on the settlements of two lawsuits concerning its safety measures, according to Yahoo! Finance writer Daniel Roberts. Whether or not it is an acceptably safe option for students remains in question.

Uber's legal problems located on a map. Download permissions
Uber’s legal problems located on a map. Photo by: taxi-deutschland.net. 

The company is not insensitive to its clients’ security concerns: They have taken some steps to improve safety.

“All drivers in the US must provide their license and vehicle documentation before being able to drive with Uber. They’re also required to go through a pre-screening process that includes a review of their motor vehicle records and a search through criminal records at the county, state, and federal levels,” according to Uber’s website.

This may not be enough, however, as pointed out in one lawsuit involving former Uber driver Daveea Whitmire who was charged with battery which involved passengers, according to Roberts.  Later information revealed Whitmire had previous felony charges, calling the company’s background check into question.

Additionally, the police “have no information about who Uber’s drivers are, what backgrounds are done on their drivers or how safe it is to use this company or any other company,” said Lieutenant Fred Lopez of the Orange Police Department.

Sophomore strategic and corporate communication major Ethan Kjesbo said that while overall the introduction of the service is “a good thing,” he has had two notably “sketchy experiences.”  The first, near the beginning of the school year, occurred when he and his friends were picked up by an older male driver who they said was behaving very strangely.

“We got out of the car and were like ‘this guy was shit faced or like completely insane,’” Kjesbo said.

A second experience occurred during the spring semester, when Kjesbo and his friends were picked up by another male Uber driver who used profane language and bragged about having had sex with a previous woman passenger in the back seat of the car right before picking them up.

“Everyone has interesting stories and more often than not Uber is a good thing but that was one of the weirder ones,” Kjesbo said.

He added that he still supports the service overall but feels it has “gotten a little more sketchy – especially for younger women.”

Freshman film studies major Priya Parikh uses Uber at least once or twice a week, and while she fully supports it, says using it as a woman can feel “unnerving at times,” but she has a simple suggestion.

“I would like to see more female drivers because this would make women feel safer when all they’re trying to do is get to the grocery store or a friend’s house,” Parikh said.

Uber driver Darius Negahban’s opinion was that it wasn’t students that were more in danger of safety issues, but older adults that began using the app after it became popular.  He attributed his reasoning to the way the age groups acted differently when using the app.

“The thing about students is that there’s usually more than one so they look out for each other,” Negahban said.

He said that big contributing issues for safety are how intoxicated the rider is and how late it is in the night.

“Always trust your instincts, if a driver shows up and you don’t feel comfortable, don’t get in the car; call for someone else,” Chief Randy Burba, of Public Safety, said.

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