An Uber story is making the rounds in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. An imposter Uber driver picked up two women near the Texas Christian University campus this past weekend and allegedly initiated inappropriate contact with them.
The driver approached them around 2 am near a popular off-campus bar area and told them that his scheduled ride had cancelled and offered to give them a ride. He then allegedly initiated inappropriate conversation and tried to hug one of them before dropping them off a few blocks away.
This story hits close to me close to me both geographically (I live near TCU) and personally (I work with college women in my volunteer life and used to drive for Uber in the area). I sought commentary from a few of the drivers I know who regularly work the after-hours ride sharing circuit to solicit their thoughts on the incident.
Passengers getting into cars they have not requested is not an uncommon occurrence, it turns out. In the rush of finding cars when bars have closed, tired or inebriated passengers often do not take the time to check the make or model of the car they are getting into or the name of the driver picking them up.
When I was driving, I learned to keep my doors locked until I verified passenger identities after a few issues with non-passengers trying to climb into my vehicle.
“I think Uber has indirectly caused people to lower their inhibitions about getting into a car with a stranger” commented one veteran driver.
Another driver I talked to acknowledged there are safety issues but noted that passengers regularly will request rides from lurking vehicles with a phone mounted in the window, assuming the car is part of a ridesharing program. New requirements from both the City of Dallas and DFW International Airport for window permits have made it more obvious which cars may be participants. Cash offers to drive passengers from surge areas are reportedly common during high volume periods (the end of sporting events or during bar closing hours) with passengers approaching vehicles dropping passengers and asking for a ride before the driver has an opportunity to log back onto the system.
Education of riders (and drivers) about the risks of off-program ride risks is critical.
One of the benefits of formal ridesharing is that the application insures some knowledge of the identity of both passenger (by cell via phone and credit card) and driver (via the ride app) and maintains tracking on the vehicle’s location during the ride.
Insurance is another key consideration – rides conducted off-program are not covered by ride sharing insurance plans, creating liability situations for both the driver and passengers engaged in such a ride should there be an accident or incident.
Riders should always verify the identity of the driver as well as the vehicle by checking the license plate of the approaching vehicle as well as the photo of the driver. And inappropriate driver behavior should be reported to the ridesharing company. (Likewise, drivers should not be hesitant to report inappropriate passenger behavior!)