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Uber Customers are Hopping Into Strange Cars

Uber Customers are Hopping Into Strange Cars

Imagine pulling up to a stoplight or corner, and waiting for your turn to go. Maybe some people are milling around on the sidewalk and you’re waiting to see if they cross — maybe you need the light to change. And then, suddenly, a complete stranger has hopped into the back of your car and is shouting an address at you. How would you react? It’s not quite a car-jacking, but it might feel like it, and apparently it’s a growing problem in urban areas, thanks to ridesharing services like Uber, where customers are failing to check that a car is being driven by an Uber associate before hopping in.

Reports are rolling in from urban areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles, where drivers are getting irritated with having people randomly jump into their backseats, and customers are uber embarrassed about confusing their ride with some random stranger. Understandably, neither side is pleased with this arrangement. Customers just want to get wherever they need to go, while drivers would prefer not to be greeted with a surprise passenger in the backseat — especially women and minorities, who may be concerned about a safety issue on top of the bizarre experience of being confused with a private driver.

Unlike Lyft, which helpfully installs giant pink moustaches on partner cars to make them easier to find, Uber relies on unmarked cars, as do many other ridesharing services like it. When users of the service hail a car, they’re actually given make and model information, but many don’t look closely, especially if they’re distracted or intoxicated. When a car that looks right rolls up, many neglect the basic etiquette of walking up to the passenger-side window to confirm that the driver is, in fact, offering a ride, rather than just hitting the street on her own time.

Ridesharing services like Uber have mushroomed in recent years, creating a variety of concerns, especially among taxi drivers, who are concerned about the obvious threat to their livelihood. They complain that livery licenses are expensive, as are other restrictions on cab drivers, and ridesharing services effectively skirt these limitations to make hailing a car cheaper for customers — at the cost of more tightly-regulated cabs. In its ongoing regulatory fight, the firm has picked up some big lobbyists and pushed for support from a variety of corners.

This creates yet another concern about the company, and raises more questions about the safety of ridesharing services. Licensed cabs are typically clearly marked, making it easy to identify them, and individuals who hail cabs don’t have to wonder about whether a vehicle is the right one to get into. Even private hire cars typically have some indicative markings. Many cars belonging to ridesharing services, though, have no markings as companies don’t require them — although some civilian drivers have joked that maybe it’s time to start displaying “NOT an Uber” on dashboards to avoid situations like these.

Resolving the issue could be as simple as requiring that all participants in rideshare services clearly mark their vehicles so customers can identify them. But this recent spate of incidents brings up some larger issues about the safety of ridesharing services, and underscores the fact that concerns about them may be legitimate.

As cabs and workers depending on a traditional and more closely regulated model protest that ridesharing is depriving them of work and opportunities, the risks to ordinary drivers posed by thoughtless or distracted Uber customers are yet another strike against such services.

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Photo credit: Scott Schiller.

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89 comments

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12:20PM PDT on Aug 26, 2014

My auto locks
automatically when I start the car
Great idea









2:02PM PDT on Aug 24, 2014

Who drives around with their
car doors unlocked?!?!?

4:29PM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

Well duh! Like we thought there would be no issues with ride sharing that is not controlled. This is like Craig's List for rides. Good idea but needs a bit of caution on the part of the people involved

12:07PM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

interesting

11:18AM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

4:00AM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

Thank you for posting.

1:06AM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

Long before Uber or any of the other Ride Sharing services were really any more than a basic concept, and even though I live in a rural area, I've always driven around with all of the doors on my car locked. Even if I had passengers, the cars were locked while I drove. And this was even before automatic locks. To me, it was basic security. So why is it such a difficult concept that if you don't want anyone hopping into your car with you uninvited that maybe locking the doors would be a really keen idea??? DUH!!

12:30AM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

Thank you!

10:54PM PDT on Aug 22, 2014

There are a lot of issues with UBER, I had just posted a video about UBER charging over $800.00 for a 14 mile trip, when the same trip had cost the customer $45.00 earlier. When they asked why such a price jump (originally quoted @$180.00 for the trip back) the driver said that he would give the rider discount, what he did was actually rip them off to the tune of over 800 bucks. They rider was also told that the prices go up when there is a higher demand. What is also happening is that UBER and their competition LYFT are fighting, calling each other & requesting phantom rides, to tie the other companies vehicles up so their own company can scoop the rider - which also effectively drives up the demand for the vehicles and thus also raises the price for the rider. There seems to be a whole bunch of issues one needs to be wary of when choosing these ... almost better to go with something regulated so you don't get ripped off to the tune of over 800 bucks!

10:04PM PDT on Aug 22, 2014

I have a very big dog that regards the car as her personal space. If someone is tailgating me they usually fall back when the dog looks at them through the rear vision mirror. if no dog, all doors locked.

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