Tech + Health

04.22.14

Uber’s “Safe Rides Fee” Is Too Little, Too Late

Popular ridesharing app Uber announced a $1 “safe rides fee” after a wave of complaints. They say the fee will go towards driver background checks, new safety features, and more.

As The Daily Beast highlighted last month, safety is a huge concern when using Uber—the popular app that allows users to beckon a private car with less time and effort than it takes to hail a cab. 

Uber drivers in most cities, The Daily Beast has found, have access to the full names of Uber passengers within the Uber app, in a “waybill” or trip record required by law. What’s more, there is some confusion among Uber representatives as to whether or not the phone numbers of Uber customers always remain anonymous.

Uber announced last week that it would begin tacking on a $1 "Safe Rides Fee" to uberX fares in the United States. (uberX is the lower-end version of Uber, where customers are carted around in Toyota Camry's instead of town cars or SUVs.)

"This fee supports the increased costs associated with our continued efforts to ensure the safest platform for Uber riders and drivers," Uber said on its blog. The company’s safety efforts, the post continued, "include an-industry leading background check process, regular motor vehicle cheeks, driver safety education, current and future development of safety features in the app, and insurance." 

The New Yorker reported that at SXSW last year, Uber hired 50 drivers to give festival attendees free rides. Uber recruited the drivers off Craigslist, gave them a background check and 45 minute orientation. “Twenty minutes of it was just filling out forms,” one driver told the publication.

Around that same time, a 20-year-old passenger in D.C. accused an Uber driver of rape. In April, prosecutors dropped the investigation.

In January 2014, an Uber driver (whose account has since been deactivated by the company) hit and killed a six-year-old girl in San Francisco. The driver, Uber said, was not working for the company at the time of the incident, igniting a debate about what “working for Uber” technically means. Being “on the clock,” Uber drivers have explained to me, means that they are logged on to the app. If they are not logged on to the app, they are apparently not really “working for” Uber at that moment, even if they are in their vehicles and driving around. Uber received blowback for not taking responsibility for the incident. The family of the girl is suing Uber for wrongful death.

Perhaps in response to that tragedy, last month Uber and its competitor, Lyft, said they would begin to offer insurance coverage while drivers were in between rides. Lyft has reportedly been charging a $1 "Trust & Safety Fee" since December.

Nairi Hourdajian, a spokeswoman for Uber, told The Daily Beast “Uber has long made significant investments across products…the fee is new, the safety investments are not…this fee supports continued efforts to connect users with the safest rides on the road.”

The Daily Beast’s questions about what percentage of regular Uber fares go to ensuring “Safe Rides,” and how much Uber was spending to guarantee “Safe Rides” for uberX passengers prior to the implementation of the $1 fee, were not answered by Hourdajian.