It’s 4 AM and your friends are all drunk. You’re not far behind, and you just want to get home safely. But the thought of flagging down a yellow cab in the dark city streets sends a shiver throughout your body; you lost your wallet and the neighborhood is too sketchy and unfamiliar for you to roam alone at this hour. The subway might be an option, but the station’s a long walk itself. So what are you to do?
Your best bet is probably one of the many private cab ordering services for smartphone users. That’s more than likely going to be Uber, an app that allows you to request a certified driver to come pick you up from your exact location and drop you off wherever you want. Payment is automatically billed to your linked credit card, so there’s no need to scramble for cash or deal with broken meters. The 5-year old service, which is rated 5-stars on the Apple App Store, operates in over 70 cities and 20 countries and seems to have become smartphone users’ preferred way out when they’re stranded or even just unable to flag down a cab in a pinch.
But despite all of this positive buzz, recent news indicates that all is not well in the Uber-villes. Several female users report that their drivers made unwanted advances towards them during their rides, ranging from flirting to concrete sexual harassment.
A woman in the Chicago metro area recently filed a lawsuit against Uber Technologies Inc., as well as her driver, for sexual harassment. According to her claims, her driver picked up her and started to drive in the opposite direction of where she needed to go. When she moved to the front seat to attempt to help him navigate, the driver began commenting on her appearance and asked for her phone number. After she refused, the driver began to make repeated physical advances on her. When she threatened to tell the police, the driver begged her not to tell anybody what had happened, and dropped her off at her location. According to a company spokesperson, the driver has since been fired, and the ruling is still pending.
Other women report similarly uncomfortable situations – one reporter for the Daily Beast writes that she felt harassed when her Uber driver showed her a picture of her on his iPad that he himself had taken of her in the street hours before she ordered the cab. Meanwhile, users on Twitter say that they often feel scared to report their drivers because of the chance that if their bad report gets the offending driver fired, the driver could recall their address from a pickup or drop-off and come to their doorstep to harass them further.
Common sense states that coming across a wayward driver is a risk you have to accept if you decide to trust any stranger with driving you anywhere at all– via yellow taxi, smartphone ordered car, limo service, what have you—and for many, Uber’s convenience outweighs their perception of that risk.
Stern junior Rayna Voz, who uses the service so much that she’s now a VIP user and gets discounted rides, says that she prefers Uber to taxis when she’s coming home late because of how professional all of her drivers have been thus far. “I often deal with taxi drivers not speaking English or knowing how to get to my destination, drivers who refuse to take me longer distances or to places that are out of their way, drivers who are plain rude and unpleasant…none of my Uber drivers have ever acted like that.” The only slightly strange pattern Voz encountered during her Uber use was when certain drivers tried to peddle their own personal limo services to her and handed her their business cards. Other than that, Voz tells Local, she’s never felt any more unsafe in an Uber than in a normal taxi, and she’s nothing but happy with the service.
Another Stern junior Ambika Swaroop tells Local that she would rather take an NYC taxi than an Uber because she’s used to them by now, plus she likes knowing that every yellow taxi is part of the NYC transportation commission’s network as opposed to under a private company’s supervision. But, if she were in a yellow cab-less pinch, the risk of a wayward driver would not outweigh the myriad other risks of walking or taking the subway alone when stranded somewhere far from home– thus, ordering an Uber cab would be her decision.
All things considered, it looks like Uber will continue to flourish despite these reports of creepy drivers. But rather than freak you out or turn you off of the service altogether, let them serve as an additional reason to be extra careful when planning your nights out. Your ways of getting from Point A to Party B and back should never be a toss-up — safety first, after all.