Uber, the transportation company looking to conquer a whole lot more than cars with its on-demand services, seems like it’s on top of the world. With a recent round of $1.2 billion in investment and a ballooning $40 billion valuation making it one of the most successful private technology companies around, there seems to be no stopping its progress in the eyes of Silicon Valley.
But for the customers who use it, the downsides of Uber’s business model are becoming more apparent. Beyond the management’s recent manipulation of media, the looming problem is that the temporary employees Uber hires as drivers aren’t as dependable as the company presents them to be, nor are they properly screened. Uber is growing so fast that safe hiring procedures can’t keep up with demand—so any and all potential drivers are recruited, even the creeps. In cities across the world, drivers have sexually harassed and even raped victims, as well as hit and killed children.
The crimes are egregious and indisputable. But the question remains, is Uber directly responsible for them? Its terms of service warns riders, “You expressly waive and release the company from any and all any liability… arising from or in any way related to the third party transportation provider.” That caveat hasn’t stopped victims from issuing lawsuits and entire countries banning the app entirely; however, the argument that the business has no connection with its employees’ abuses appears patently disingenuous.
As it continues to grow, Uber’s biggest flaw might not be its product, but itself. Here are the places where the company is fighting its toughest challenges to its services as well as its reputation.
On December 9, a lawsuit from Portland’s City Hall against Uber moved to federal court. The city is suing the service because it doesn’t comply with its pre-existing town car regulations, like charging premium prices and waiting an hour before picking up scheduled rides. But Uber doesn’t seem to care that it’s breaking the law. It has argued that it would lose $100,000 in business if the regulations are enforced. "We will continue to operate in Portland," Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend told The Oregonian.
On November 16, a Chicago woman was reportedly raped by a driver who asked her to sit in the front of his car because he was “unfamiliar with the area,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Uber has removed the driver from its service and is complying with the city police.
Both Los Angeles and San Francisco are suing Uber for misrepresenting the quality of its background checks, especially in light of the company’s added $1 “Safe Rides fee” that tout its driver screening. Uber’s process is actually “completely worthless,” argued San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. Lyft, an app-based car company that is weathering regulation better than its larger, more aggressive competitor, recently settled the suit for $500,000.
This month, San Francisco Uber driver Syed Muzzafar was charged with vehicular manslaughter for hitting and killing a 6-year-old girl, Sofia Liu, on New Year’s Eve 2013. Liu’s family argues that Uber is partly to blame for the accident, issuing a statement that Muzzafar was looking at his phone when the collision happened. Muzzafar’s attorney argues that Uber had nothing to do with it, that the driver was off his phone entirely. But the death is still casting a pall over the company’s public image.
Roberto Chicas, a San Francisco bartender, may also lose vision in an eye over an UberX ride after the driver took a hammer to his passenger’s face during a dispute in September. “There’s no doubt that the trail of liability leads back to Uber’s doorstep,” said Harry Stern, the victim’s lawyer, who plans to sue the company. “We believe they should pay.”
In November, Uber suspended operations in the state of Nevada after a judge granted the state’s request to block the company, successfully arguing that drivers’ Uber-enabled ability to use their personal cars to carry paid passengers goes against the rights of taxi companies. “I’m not going to risk the safety of the public,” said Judge Scott Freeman.
A London woman was offered $31 in Uber credit after her driver “asked me if I wanted him to go down on me,” Newsweek discovered. “I feel that people really trust the Uber name (as I do) and my trust was completely violated,” the woman said. The driver is no longer on the Uber platform, the company confirmed, but no further action has been taken save the paltry monetary compensation.
New Delhi, India
Delhi driver Shiv Kumar Yadav picked up a 26-year-old woman in his Uber car, but instead of bringing her home, Yadav drove her to a secluded area and raped her. According to police, the driver later confessed to the crime. After a storm of bad press, the government “banned Uber to provide any transport related service in Delhi,” the state government announced. Mumbai and Hyderabad are joining in on the ban, as well.
A judge in Spain laid a temporary ban on Uber, accusing the company of "unfair competition” following a complaint from the Madrid Taxi Association. Drivers Drivers "lack the administrative authorization to carry out the job,” the ruling reads. Yet the company maintains it is "still operating" in the country, reports the BBC.
These infographic maps show where Uber is being outlawed. But the company’s website tells a different story, toting its services in 52 countries, including many that supposedly ban it. Such is the Uber dilemma: governments will have a hard time rooting out a decentralized, privatized, platform-based car service with no legal responsibility for its driver’s actions. Either Uber will continue to dodge its detractors, or customers will eventually find its public reputation unpalatable. It’s up to the company to determine which route it takes.