Help Us to Keep Rideshares Transparent!

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With the release of our new site, RideGuru, the TaxiFareFinder/RideGuru team has become passionate about bringing transparency to the ridesharing community. Rideshares, such as Uber and Lyft, have their benefits but they also can be hampered by a lack of transparency.

Take a look at the video below to see how RideGuru is helping to bring insight into the ridesharing industry and let us know your thoughts below!

Which is Safer, Ubers or Taxis?

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uber-vs-taxi

In the news we often see headlined stories about passengers who have been assaulted by their Uber and Taxi drivers. Sometimes people even report being abused more than once. With all the media that the news covers around these incidents, we wanted to see if one of these options (Taxis or Ubers) would be safer to use than the other.

Tracking Police Reports

The first step of this investigation might be to check with the records of reported assaults, and compare how many occurred in Taxis and how many in Ubers in different cities across the U.S.. However, according to this article in The Atlantic, when an incident is reported to the local police surrounding an assault in a cab or Uber, the police report does not include the location of where the offense occurred. So, police departments in major cities have no way to track historical records of assaults that have occurred in taxis or Ubers, which complicates things just a bit.

Background Checks

Now to the topic of background checks. This is a sensitive topic because of course, Uber thinks that they have more intense background checks than taxis, using the example of some drivers who failed Uber’s check but passed the city’s background check to drive a taxi. On the other hand, taxi companies believe that taxi drivers have to undergo more intense background checks than Uber drivers do, because Uber’s records only go back 7 years and they do not use fingerprints. Uber left the city of Austin just to prove that they refused to fingerprint their drivers.

The conclusion on this topic might be that no background checks are perfect, and each of them contain their flaws. And, of course, even a seemingly perfect background check may not catch a potential offender of sexual assault because the person may not have a history of criminal behavior, but humans are also flawed.

Incident Reporting

When an incident is reported in the Uber app, Uber suspends the driver’s access to the app while they are investigating the claim, which means they are not able to drive any passengers. If they find the person is guilty, Uber will deactivate the driver permanently. Taxi commissions have similar processes if a driver is accused of assault, however there is no standard procedure that all taxi drivers undergo when accused.

According to these factors, we cannot come to the conclusion that Ubers are more dangerous than Taxis, or the other way around. The fact of the matter is that assault incidences occur in both, and the best way to insure your safety while riding in an Uber or Taxi is to be aware of your surroundings, travel with a buddy, and be sure to report any incidences that may occur.

Did Uber Rides Actually Get Cheaper?

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Uber has been in the news a lot lately for lowering their prices across many U.S. and Canadian cities. Last week our team at TaxiFareFinder did a little bit of research on Uber’s supposed “lower prices” and came to a major conclusion.

While Uber did indeed lower standard mileage prices in over 100 cities, they also raised their minimum fares and recently increased the price of their safe rides fees. This means that in some situations, passengers will actually end up paying more than before Uber lowered their fares! Let’s take a look at some numbers below.

First, Uber decided to raise their Safe Rides Fee this past fall. According to Business Insider, this fee was first introduced in April 2014, as a way for Uber to recoup the costs of running its background checks and providing 24/7 support to its riders. The Safe Rides Fee used to be only $1 regardless of where you hailed an Uber, but now Uber is calculating this fee based on your zip code. Apparently, Uber believes the price of “safety” is different depending on where you live. Is Uber really trying to make some kind of statement about each city’s relative risks and the costs of finding drivers who have no criminal charges and a safe driving record?

Surprisingly (or perhaps not), Uber didn’t just slightly raise Safe Rides Fees, in fact some cities had their Safe Rides Fee more than doubled! Passengers from Inland Empire in California and Northwest Indiana are now paying $2.45 and $2.50 respectively. Many other cities such as, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Ventura, Knoxville, Fort Myers, Naples, Indianapolis, and Jacksonville are also all above the $2.00 mark. Remarkably, Uber users in New York City are still able to hail their Uber car without paying any fee! That’s right the Safe Rides Fee is free in NYC and Halifax, Canada.

After Uber raised Safe Rides Fees, they then decided to increase minimum fares as well. The minimum fare is the least amount a passenger can pay for an Uber ride. In other words, if a passenger takes an Uber around the block, they will still get charged as though they took the car 4 blocks in an effort to reimburse drivers for short trips. While this raise on the minimum fare is great for drivers, it may come as a shock to some passengers who usually use Uber for short rides, especially when passengers will be expecting a lower fare due to Uber’s price cuts. Instead passengers who now take Uber on short routes will actually end up paying more than before Uber lowered their fares, plus, they will be paying a higher Safe Rides Fee as well!

The moral of the story is passengers who are planning on using Uber for short rides, shouldn’t expect their fares to have decreased as it has been projected across the media. In fact, they should expect to pay a little more than before!

Should Uber Be Doing More To Protect Its Drivers?

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A few weekends ago, an Orange County Uber driver named Edward Caban released a now viral video on Youtube that depicted a scary confrontation between himself and his passenger, Benjamin Golden.  In a little less than a week, the video has garnered over 2 million views and raised serious questions about driver safety.

The video itself depicts a drunk Golden, unable to sit up straight or give directions to the driver, turn violent when Caban demands that he exit the vehicle.  The video was recorded by the driver’s dash cam and it ends with the intoxicated Golden being pepper sprayed by Caban.

Golden was arrested at the scene and his charges were upgraded the day after to four misdemeanors according to the Orange County DA’s office.  He was also fired from his position as a Taco Bell executive and will likely have trouble finding work for the rest of his life.

For Uber drivers across the country, the first couple minutes of this video were nothing out of the ordinary.  We’ve all had passengers who were too drunk to enter their destination or unable to give accurate directions, but rarely have things turned violent.

In fact, with over 1 million trips per day, most of the newsworthy incidents regarding Uber usually have to do with passenger safety.  Recently, an Uber driver in India was sentenced to life in prison for raping a female passenger and there are countless other horror stories in which drivers are most often the perpetrators.  But this is one of the first well publicized cases we’ve seen where the driver was actually the victim instead of the passenger.

Was It Just A Matter Of Time?

Drivers have been dealing with drunk passengers since Uber’s early days and it’s common knowledge that the ‘Party Hours’, typically Friday and Saturday evenings, are when it’s busiest but also when you get the highest number of intoxicated passengers.

I like to tell drivers on my site, that a good beginner strategy is to just ‘Follow The Alcohol’ since even Uber promotes its platform as the safer alternative to drinking and driving.  And it’s no different on holiday weekends like Halloween when this incident occurred.

Here’s a chart that Uber sent to my driver account a few days before Halloween weekend.

Uber Peak Demand Halloween Night

You can see from the chart above that demand is at its highest when people have had a full night of drinking and partying and are just about ready to start heading home.  Now, dealing with drunks isn’t the sexiest part about being an Uber driver but it is usually when you’ll make the most amount of money.  Uber’s surge pricing encourages drivers to come out on the road during these times and that increased pay can make up for having to deal with these unruly passengers.

But drivers have always had a lot of concerns in regards to driving during this time.  There are some drivers who flat out refuse to drive nights and others do it begrudgingly.

Should Uber Do More?

Unfortunately for drivers, Uber has a history of providing the bare minimum when it comes to what’s required by the law.  So whether we’re talking rideshare insurance, background checks or safety issues, Uber has deferred a lot of the risk of driving and owning a business to its independent contractors.

And this case is no different.  I’ve spoken with hundreds of drivers about this particular incident over the past few days and this video has really struck a nerve with a lot of them because it’s brought to light the real risks of being an Uber driver.  Uber is starting to look more than ever like a glorified taxi service with a fancy app and that can be problematic for a couple reasons.

Driving A Taxi Is Dangerous

There’s a reason why driving a taxi consistently ranks on top ten list for the most dangerous jobs.  And if you couldn’t tell from the plexiglass screen that sits in-between you and your taxi driver, a report from OSHA released in the year 2000 found that taxi drivers are 60 times more likely than other workers to be murdered on the job.

Additionally, the report provided several recommendations in order to make things safer for taxi drivers:

  • automatic vehicle location or global positioning systems (GPS) to locate drivers in distress;
  • caller ID to help trace location of fares;
  • first-aid kits in every car for use in emergencies;
  • in-car surveillance cameras;
  • partitions or shields;
  • protocol with police — owners and police to track high-crime locations;
  • radios to communicate in emergencies (e.g., with an “open mike switch”);
  • safety training for drivers;
  • silent alarms;
  • use of credit/debit cards (“cashless” fare systems) to discourage robberies.

Out of the ten recommendations pulled straight from the OSHA report, Uber provides only three of these features on their platform.  Everything that you see in bold is currently not in place for Uber drivers and remember, this report was released in the year 2000, so it’s not exactly breaking news.

This driver in this incident was actually pretty well prepared though with a dash cam and pepper spray.  Unfortunately, most Uber drivers haven’t even considered this kind of stuff until now.

In the days following the incident, I’ve fielded hundreds of inquiries from drivers about dash cams and whether or not they should be carrying non-lethal weapons.  Nowhere in Uber’s lackluster training material does it mention the word dash cam and here’s the response I got from Uber’s customer support team when asking if I, as a driver, could carry non-lethal weapons while I’m driving.

Are Uber Drivers Even Allowed To Carry Non-lethal Weapons?

This e-mail is a microcosm of the training and support that Uber drivers get on the job.  Their questions are often met with frustrating responses and Uber rarely provides any sort of real guidance or help.  It’s one of the reasons that drivers turn to third party resources like my own blog to get help and real-life advice.

Safety Issues Are Real

When you think about Uber’s slogan, “Everybody’s Private Driver”, the image you conjure up in your head probably doesn’t involve plexiglass screens, dash cams and pepper spray.  But maybe it should.

Uber and competitors like Lyft were built on the idea that normal every day people could drive to make a little extra cash in their spare time.  Uber’s public policy strategist, David Plouffe, recently touted the fact that of the 400,000 Uber drivers nationwide, more than 50% of them drive less than 10 hours per week, which would seem to corroborate that narrative.

But as Uber has expanded beyond the tech savvy millennial demographic and eroded the taxi industry’s market share, it’s passenger base has started to encompass that very same group that makes driving a taxi so dangerous.  The fact that a majority of Uber drivers drive less than 10 hours per week is actually a really bad thing when it comes to safety since it means they are less adequately prepared to handle these types of situations.

In the days after this event, I heard from many taxi drivers who told me, this Uber driver handled this situation very poorly.  And while there’s obviously no excuse for the violence perpetrated by Golden, it’s possible that this situation could have easily been prevented with any single one of the numerous recommendations from that 15 year old OSHA report.

Even the most basic of real-time support systems like an emergency phone line that Uber drivers can call would make things safer for drivers.  As it stands today, there’s actually no way for Uber drivers to contact Uber in real-time while they’re out driving.  They’re asked to e-mail in about any problems they have with a specific passenger or ride, which seems almost ridiculous for a $50 billion company.

Uber has reacted to this incident the way you’d expect, releasing an official statement that said, “We’ve been in contact with Mr. Caban and are thankful he is doing ok. We will provide any information to the investigating authorities as needed. The rider involved in this incident has been permanently banned from the platform.”

But the real question is, is this enough?  According to Plouffe, Uber is ‘creating jobs’ at a breakneck pace but they still aren’t required to provide things like adequate safety training or worker protections to its drivers.  Passengers may have questioned Uber’s safety practices in the past, but now, a lot of Uber drivers are starting to wonder the same thing.

 

About Harry Campbell, The RideShare Guy

Hello TFF Readers, my name is Harry Campbell and I run a blog for rideshare drivers called The Rideshare Guy and I also write about the on demand economy for Forbes.  I’ll be sharing articles from time to time on what’s going on in the world of rideshare and what you need to know as a passenger whether you enjoy taxis, rideshare or all of the above!

What Ride is Best for You?

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Need a ride? All the options available at the touch of a button can be overwhelming — Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, the rideshare services seem endless. Let us help you! Answer a few simple questions and let TaxiFareFinder lead you to the best ride option for you.

 

Looking for a one-stop price-checker to better sort through your options? TaxiFareFinder has released a convenient Uber, Lyft, Taxi Comparison Calculator, RideGuru, to give you the power to discover the least expensive transportation option in your city. Through TaxiFareFinder’s RideGuru tool you can compare options and choose your ride based on price ahead of time. This way, you are always in control and aware of the final cost. Be prepared and get where you need to go!

A Tale of Uber’s Trials, Tribulations, and Regulations II

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A continuation of part I, we have zeroed in on a few regulatory battles Uber has been involved in within the past few months. The company is continuously making headlines for their “never take no for an answer” attitude and the different legal obstacles encountered with each new city. Check out the clashes Uber has faced in these three major US cites.

Boston

Recent protests have brought rideshare regulation issues to life once again in the city of Boston. Taxi drivers parked their vehicles outside of Cambridge City Hall last week, chanting and honking in protest of rideshare services. The claim, like cab drivers around the world, is that business has decreased by over fifty percent since Uber has entered the city and drivers are unable to compete due to laws imposed on the taxi industry.  City officials at the scene were outwardly supportive of rideshares; a few were even overheard telling protestors that these services will never be outlawed and that they themselves were huge users and fans of the services.

Instead of banning rideshare services, many city officials are turning their focus to deregulating the taxi industry “level the playing field” and facilitate competition. Initiatives such as lowering certain fees associated with driving a cab and assisting cab companies in the creation of a mobile-app that would work in a similar fashion to rideshare service apps. Governor Baker of Massachusetts has already supported and submitted a bill that is considered “Uber-friendly,” but a counter-bill supported by the taxi industry is also in the works. This debate is expected to continue in September, where regulation or deregulation can be decided on at a state level.

Chicago

Early 2015, Chicago issued a “transportation network provider” license to Uber, but only after meticulous negotiations to increase security measures to protect riders.  After a few incidents involving sexual attacks by Uber drivers, the company and city met to significantly increase safety for riders and barriers to entry for drivers.

The agreement met, included full cooperation with police when problems arise, fully disclosing related ride information such as GPS tracking of the ride and driver information. The company will conduct more in-depth background checks that fully inspect the potential driver’s criminal record in the past. Each month, Uber is required to hire “mystery-shopper”-like riders to audit drivers and check that all criteria is being met. In addition, Chicago required Uber to increase in-app rider safety features including a safety checklist, easier access to driver information, and ability to share ride information with outside individuals. These mark a few of the main points of the agreement, but even more security measures were required for the full-licensing by the city of Chicago.

Behind the scenes, there have been accusations that Mayor Emanuel of Chicago unfairly favored Uber entering the city because family investment ties to the company. The mayor came back with a statement denying the favoritism and ensuring riders that proper safety measures had been taken and met the criteria for full licensing in the city.  Cab drivers and taxi drivers in unions are still protesting the growing presence of rideshare services in the city, claiming the loss of over two million rides a month and forcing many drivers into bankruptcy.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. regulatory action is a rare example of a legal decision passed by a city that Uber approves and applauds. The Vehicle-for-Hire Innovation Amendment Act of 2014 was passed almost unanimously about a year ago in D.C.; Uber touts this bill as a model for other cities to follow and implement. Like other cities, the passing of the act was accompanies by taxi driver protests outside City Hall and the attempt to alter the bill until the very end. The finalized Act included a few key laws that were especially appealing to rideshare services like Uber, including:

  • Requires rideshare drivers to be included under liability insurance of the company whenever driving for the app.
  • Requires driver background checks.
  • Requires rideshare vehicles to have some kind of identifiable mark to distinguish from public.
  • Does not require the disclosure of inventory or driver information to the city.

It is easy to see why Uber and other rideshare services were extremely pleased with the outcome of this regulatory action. However, almost a year after the bill, the Taxi Operators Association is coming back with a class-action lawsuit against the city. Within this lawsuit, cab drivers are claiming that this act created a double standard that favored rideshare services and severely hurt the taxicab industry.  The argument concerning this so-called “special treatment” is still under discussion.

 

Sources used in this article:

Boston Globe | Chicago Sun Times | DC Inno

How Safe is Uber?

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Since Uber’s inception there have been numerous reports of Uber rides gone awry and it has led many people to ask the same question, “How safe is Uber?”. Check out the below infographic to learn what Uber is doing to ensure your safety and where they are still falling short. Be informed and be safe before you ride!

Uber Background Checks

How Safe is Uber? [INFOGRAPHIC]

Compliments of BackgroundChecks.org