Women across Australia are accepting lifts home with strangers now, in order to save money on their cab fares.
But the whole arrangement is perfectly safe and above-board.
At least, that’s the message Uber, a smartphone app that connects riders with drivers, is emphasising this week following a slew of concerning media reports about the service’s safety standards.
An Uber driver in India allegedly raped and threatened to kill a 25-year-old passenger on Friday night — and last month, Buzzfeed reported that the company’s senior vice president of business, Emil Michael, commented that women are “more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers”, allegedly also hinting that he might carry out “oppo research” on journalists.
Taxi organisations are also up in arms about the service, which they say is illegal and unsafe.
So what exactly is Uber — and is it okay/safe to use?
What is Uber? What’s the difference between UberBlack and UberX?
Once they’ve downloaded the Uber app, users can select from different Uber services when booking a ride. UberBlack, the company’s original service, is a high-end, luxury vehicle hire car service, which is normally a little more (read: quite a bit more) expensive than a taxi. UberBlack’s drivers consist of certified chauffeurs.
UberX — which can be up to 50% cheaper than a taxi, according to the company — is a little more controversial, however. While hire car or taxi drivers must legally have specific licences in order to operate, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports, UberX doesn’t have driver requirements that are quite as strict.
In fact, what would appear to be “UberBlack’s slightly cheaper brother company” actually just a series of regular people who’ve passed a few basic screening procedures like police and background checks, have a valid driver’s license with clean driving record and updated insurance policies. But that’s about it.
What are cab companies saying about Uber?
The Chief executive office Australian Taxi Industry Association, Blair Davies, told Mamamia that the main difference between taxis and UberX is that “ride sharing is basically not licensed and the cars are private, up to nine years old. On the other hand taxis must be inspected by mechanics every four to six months.”
Mr Davies added that there is “no real roadworthy test” for UberX cars, and that Uberx cars can only be tracked through the driver’s phone, which can be shut off.
In contrast, he told Mamamia, “taxis have two or three GPS devices hardwired into their systems” as well as a security camera that cannot be disabled by the driver.
“Taxi systems are known and traceable to the company (And) a medical test must also be performed on divers,” he said. “Doctors look at the physical and mental fitness of the driver and check to see that they are fit to drive a commercial vehicle.”
The Taxi Council of Queensland has also warned would-be Uber passengers of alleged risks associated with the service
“Cashed up companies like Uber use warm and fuzzy words but in reality they are about one thing – making money by exploiting uninsured drivers, exposing the public to risks and lying about their operations,” TCQ chief executive Benjamin Wash told Fairfax Media.