Besides disrupting transportation, Uber has shaken up the rules of staying safe

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An Uber driver's car is shown with a large yellow sticker on the side saying, "We Buy Houses".

Sasha Zidar

An Uber driver’s car is shown with a large yellow sticker on the side that saying, “We Buy Houses.”

EAST LANSING – Disruptive transportation networks such as Uber and Lyft have become one of the most popular forms of transportation. They have tried to make themselves essential for getting to point A to point B. However, free from some regulations, vetting and transparency, the companies are raising questions about rider safety.

Stranger danger

An MSU student shares their experience of a nightmare ride with an Uber driver in East Lansing. For safety reasons, she asked that we not publish her name.

“My experience with Uber has been generally great up until that day … On that trip specifically, I was terrified, ” said the MSU student. “Especially when I told him where he needed to turn and he said he didn’t want to drop me off, and proceeded to drive past the road I said to turn on.”

Uber does not perform formal interviews, and people can apply to become an Uber driver with a click of a button online. This Uber driver had made sure to block the back seat, so the passage was forced to seat in the front seat of the vehicle.

“Truly, in the back of my mind I kept thinking he was going to kidnap me … I felt disrespected after the numerous time of telling him I’m not interested in him,” said the MSU student. “When he repeatedly tried holding my hand and grabbing my arm, I felt violated and told him to stop. It seemed that no matter what I said he did not grasp or care to hear what I was saying.”

After customers are dropped off at their destinations, they can rate their ride on a five-star scale and give feedback on their driver and whether or not the experience was good or bad.

After a ride that felt like something out of a horror movie, the MSU student reported the incident to Uber. However, the response from Uber wasn’t what the passenger was expecting.

“I think Uber needs to be far more selective with the people it allows to drive representing their brand and name,” said the student. “The response to the situation is what shocked me … It was as if Uber was more concerned about keeping the employee happy than the actual rider, being myself. It’s also disturbing, that they thought the best solution was blocking him from being able to accept my rides, but not taking him off the roads completely.”

According to an answer on the website about safety, Uber advises, ‘…Should you choose to leave a 1 Star rating for a rider, you will not be matched with that person again.’
“Why should another individual be put at risk because they would rather not take them off their service and would rather see if it happens again?” the student asked. “I now use Lyft and have yet to feel remotely uncomfortable on a ride.”

Local regulations

The Greater Lansing Taxi Authority has recently hit a wall regulating such companies  after the state Transportation Network Company Act< passed on March 21, 2017. Uber and Lyft are now regulated under the new state law.

According to the Greater Lansing Taxi Authority website, the organization’s purpose is “to engage in a uniform regional regulatory structure for taxi companies and drivers and ensure that a safe and professional fleet serves Greater Lansing residents and visitors.:

Under state rules, Uber and Lyft drivers are no longer regulated locally.

On Wednesday, April 19, the local authority discussed the new state law and how they will now handle taxicab background checks.

East Lansing City attorney Thomas Yeadon explained what happened.

“What was introduced was simply a measure to regulate Uber and Lyft tech companies morphed into the limousine and taxicab and transportation network companies act,” said Thomas Yeadon, East Lansing city attorney during the meeting. “The provision most relevant to us says, ‘Otherwise provided in this section, no local unit of government shall not enact or enforce an ordinance regulating a limousine carrier or taxi cab carrier or limousine driver or taxicab driver or transportation network companies’”.

Due to the new state law, there has been a decline in license renewals in East Lansing. The Greater Lansing Taxi Authority used to be able to perform regional regulatory structure for taxi companies to assure safety for East Lansing residents.

Now there is no assurance that transportation network companies are operating with licensed drivers.

Under the locally regulated system, “The individual drivers have to be licensed,” said Marie Wicks, East Lansing city clerk. “They have to have the fingerprints, drug tests, background check and they must be associated with a specific company that is also licensed.”

This graph represents the decline of licensing renewals from taxi cab drivers and companies in the past few years.

The graphs show the decline in license renewals in East Lansing from 2015-2017.

Sasha Zidar

The graphs show the decline in license renewals in East Lansing from 2015-2017.

Safety advice came up at the meeting.

“MSU students talk, they have a huge network … They’re well connected,” said Janet Lillie, from the office of governmental affairs at MSU. “They ban up all of their knowledge together and they figure out how to get around systems. Quite frankly, students can figure out how to get around this system in almost ‘self police’ by just sharing, who are the creeps and who aren’t and bring them down. Collectively, it’s easier for them to open up their phone and hit a few buttons and be good to go,” said Lillie.

Safety first

Uber and Lyft may be protected by the state act but East Lansing Police and MSU Police are keeping a close eye on drivers that aren’t regulated.

“In the past, we have had individual drivers with different ride-sharing services and we have had complaints made against them to our police department for various issues,” said East Lansing Police Lt. Steven Gonzalez. “I don’t want to paint it with a broad stroke of, ‘You know this company or that company’ we had problems with.”

Sexual assault and harassment aren’t the only crimes committed by ride-sharing services in East Lansing. Overcharging international students and residents has also been an issue.

“We’ve heard stories about international students being charged more money from cab drivers,” said Wicks. “Someone having a $20 fare and giving their cab a hundred and the cab driver says, ‘I don’t have change for you,'” charging $50 to take someone from MSU campus to Chandler and the students are embarrassed to report it.

Uber driver

Sasha Zidar

fety advice when riding with ride-sharing services listed below.

 

  1. Use basic commonsense methods of keeping yourself safe.
  2. If you’re uncomfortable riding in the share service by yourself, do not ride in the vehicle.
  3. If you have to take a ride by yourself, let a friend or family member know, where you’re going, where you’re going to be picked up, and when you expect to arrive.
  4. Make sure the vehicle you are getting into is the one you had requested and not an impostor.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings while you’re riding.
  6. Call 911 if you need immediate help or to report a crime to the East Lansing Police Department.

“If the individuals even are questioning whether or not someone broke the law or ‘is this really a police matter,’ they really do have to report that to us,” said Gonzalez. “Because even if it is a situation where the driver’s behavior did not cross the line where an actual law was broken, it’s still something that we need to know about and look into.”

The old “stranger danger” warning is always a good rule of thumb to have when riding with random drivers. Be cautious of who you are riding with and report any type of incident to the East Lansing or MSU Police to help ensure the safety of other passengers.

The MSU student reflects on what could have been done during the nightmare ride with  an Uber driver experience.

“If you have a gut feeling something is off about the ride or driver, simply ask them to stop and get out. Do not feel obligated to continue the ride,” said the MSU student. Also, do not sit in the front seat of the vehicle even if ordered to. Though Uber did not respond to the situation how it should have, still report anything that is worthy of being reported.”