walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

The Hazards of Driving for Uber

Look, I know this kind of thing has been going on with cab drivers since before the internal combustion engine was invented. Part of the attraction of Uber has been that the driver and the ride both can check out the reputations/ratings of the other person and thus feel more confident of a good experience. However, as I think we all know, a given person's behavior while altered can be very, very different from that same person's behavior when ... not altered. Good news tho! Uber drivers sometimes have dash cams that can be rotated around, so we've got footage of the badly behaved ride after the fact. Doesn't help the driver out ahead of time; that's an ongoing hazard. And if you think the deterrent factor here is going to be enough to fix this problem, well, celebrities.

Sample coverage of riders behaving badly.



There are also accusations against drivers for assaulting passengers, sometimes for attempting to cell phone video something the driver is doing.

Predictably, someone is assembling _everything_ that can go wrong with ridesharing. If you're thinking, cool! A cross-platform reputation system! Yeah, not so much. If that exists, I don't know about it yet, so feel free to point me at 'em in the comments and I'll edit this post. In the meantime, Taxi, Limo and Para-Transit drivers want you to know that those spiffy ride sharing services have some Issues.


Currently, ridesharing companies are (mostly) regulated under Limo rules, not taxi rules. Taxis (generally) have a government granted (usually, but not always, city) monopoly on offering rides for sale by hail on the street. Ridesharing companies are regulated under Limo rules because the idea is that app on your phone is close to the old skool Call For A Ride On the Phone that was Limo or carriage service or wtf. Carriage service is _very_ lightly regulated, and at least around Boston, if you don't like the regulations you are dealing with, you just move your garage to a town that wants your taxes more than they want to tell you how to run your business. The Big Stick that ridesharing has to deal with is that a huge fraction of rides are people who want to go to and from airports, and airports are run by Port Authorities (generally), and if you want to offer rides on or off airport property, you have to play by their rules or convince your fare to lie to anyone who asks who this person is that is dropping you off for your flight.

There are a variety of goals for regulation of rides. First and foremost is the public welfare: we don't want a bunch of shady stuff going on that costs us money in enforcing on fraud and worse. That's why we don't just let anyone do this: it would be cheaper to get a ride, but then we'd have all the expense of figuring out who was driving around in which car running down pedestrians and knocking out fares and rolling them for whatever is in their luggage then dumping them off a bridge somewhere. A very distant second is a desire to maintain a Certain Standard. We know this Standard is often pretty low, because Uber wouldn't be so appealing in offering an upscale experience if cabs didn't suck so much. Finally, trailing in at third, there is some sort of due process issue. We _did_ grant monopolies to taxi drivers (usually administered through a medallion system) as a way of managing this in the past. If we are going to let something out compete the medallions, there are going to be negative knock-on effects on the value of the medallions, which may have mortgages on them (for real).

The ex-Taco Bell guy's lawsuit against the Uber driver is based on rules about whether you can record somebody without their permission. I hope this lawsuit fails utterly, and not just because that bro was a horrible, horrible drunk. I foresee a future in which front and rear facing cameras in the vehicles purveying rides help us a lot more with reputation management AND enforcement than any number of reviews ever will. But this is a problem fixable over the long-haul by ride sharing apps requiring all fares to _agree_ to being recorded in the vehicle in principle, whether or not the driver chooses to do so.

(Right now, I'm hanging out with my walking partner post walk. I'm blogging. She's playing a game on an iPad. She made a comment about her dog, which somehow triggered Alexa to add a dog to my shopping list. I have no idea what just happened.)

I'm not sure whether making rides blow into a breathalyzer could help with this problem; it could definitely help with setting expectations appropriately. Given that the conflict in the Taco Bell incident revolved around a fare who didn't want to supply an address but rather give directions, but then he wouldn't give directions and argued about the choices the driver was making, I suppose we could require more from the drunken rider up front, on the theory that anyone walking around that drunk probably has more on board waiting to hit their bloodstream and could pass out or start vomiting at any moment.

If we are, structurally, moving away from personal vehicle ownership in urban areas and in the direction of buy-by-ride, it would be nice to make some improvements in the way the system works for all participants. Especially since we don't want to turn drunk people away from the ride -- goddess knows what they would do instead.
Tags: transportation
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