The Uber Phenomenon - Are we safe in an Uber?
I was an Uber holdout for a good while. I had mixed feelings about how fair and safe a company it was. In the early days, there were a few high profile cases of sex crimes or violence perpetrated by Uber drivers. I avoided Uber for as long as I could.
In the end, frustrated with smoking taxi drivers who constantly got annoyed with me for trying to pay for my fare with card, I hopped on the Uber train. And it has mostly, been a great experience.
Any customer service issues I've had until recently, have been dealt with in a timely, customer-first manner. However, the nagging issue of training and safety always was at the back of my mind.
New drivers are subjected to a background check, that according to the internet, goes back about 7 years and includes a national federal background check for all federal databases (RCMP in Canada). Uber states that it has a "zero-tolerance" on any offences, including sexual offences. Driving records are also reviewed, and any serious infractions will rule you out of an Uber job.
Drivers must also have their cars pass an Uber inspection in order to be accepted as a driver.
Uber also has built in safety features. All rides are tracked and recorded via GPS by Uber. You can also track your ride both while you wait and after you get in via the GPS feature of the app. And finally, if you wish, you can send a friend or family member a link for them to follow your ride, so you can let loved ones know you're getting home safely.
However, in my research, there was no indication that there was any specific training program for new drivers regarding customer service or harassment policies. Antidotally, most posts I've read online state that new drivers are shown the app for a few minutes, shown a short video on how it works and "thrown to the wolves".
Forbes has even alleged that drivers that seek out extra training must pay for it.
Some issues in my city began to arise when Uber was made illegal in part of the region I live. In the Ottawa-Gatineau region of Canada, Uber is legal in Ottawa, but not Gatineau. This means that if you're in Gatineau and trying to get an Uber, it can be extremely difficult or impossible.
I was trying to get to the airport. And quite honestly, I wasn't feeling like hopping in a Gatineau taxi that probably smelled like cigarettes for a 30 minute ride. I tried my best to get an Uber. After several Uber request attempts I got a call from a number I didn't recognize. I answered the phone and a man proceeded to yell at me to stop bugging him for an Uber. He told me he was busy and that I should leave him alone. "Excuse me?", I said, confused. He continued to berate me for a few more seconds and then hung up on me.
Bewildered, I hung up the phone. If you don't know, when you request an Uber, it's anonymous, you don't request a specific driver. But obviously, he was getting repeatedly pinged with my request that no one else was picking up.
And then I became worried. All of the uneasy feelings I had about driver training and screening had come to fruition. Luckily, I did not get in the car with this clearly aggressive man. But what was Uber doing to ensure drivers were not behaving inappropriately or aggressively with passengers? After all, I frequently take Uber, alone at night, sometimes after drinking. How safe am I? What if I had been in the car with this aggressive driver when a dispute happened? Would I have been safe?
I Reached Out to Uber
I detailed my experience, expressed my concern. They emailed back and said they were sorry that happened and offered me a $5 CAD credit. WHAT?!
Shocked and appalled, I fired back another email asking them specifically what their protocol for staff training was and also what their protocol was for handing issues of harassment.
In their response, they told me they would handle the situation, but they couldn't give me details due to privacy reasons. They did say they would block myself and that specific driver from each other, so he could never pick me up in the future.
I didn't ask what would happen to that specific driver, I asked for details on Uber's internal policies and training procedures. That response gave me all the info I needed. Thanks.