Uber: The Good, The Annoying and the Very, Very Ugly

Do you Uber?  If you live in one of the many major cities who currently have this service, chances are you have at least one friend who’s raved about the wonders of Uber.  If you’re not familiar with it, Uber is a service that allows you to order a taxi from your phone (via app or text message).  Depending on your city, you may have a choice between black car service or a traditional yellow cab.  If you’re someone who’s ever struggled to hail a cab, you’ll recognize what an awesome thing this is.  No more waving your arms as cab after cab passes you by, no more standing on a deserted street hoping a cab comes your way, no more pretending to be a hotel guest so that you can get the doorman to hail you a cab.  With Uber, with a few clicks in an app, a car will be on its way to wherever you are, with an estimated time of arrival and GPS tracking showing exactly where it is.  Uber also stores your credit card info and bills you automatically for your ride (gratuity included), so there’s no need to worry about carrying cash or how much to tip your driver.  It’s a little pricier than your standard taxi ride, but it’s a price a lot of people (myself included) are willing to pay for convenience.

You’d think everyone would be excited to jump on the Uber bandwagon, but you’d be wrong.  New York City, of all places,is still a raging battleground in the fight between “e-hailing” phone apps like Uber, and the Taxi and Limousine Commission.  While Uber doesn’t operate its own cars and just functions as a dispatch for existing car services, other companies are apparently still worried about losing business to Uber.  This seems pretty ridiculous, as I’m pretty certain that cabs in New York are not hurting for business, so hopefully they’ll eventually recognize that Uber is the way of the future and get on board.  One can only hope that after Uber conquers the Big Apple, they’ll move on to providing service to other major cities that don’t yet have it, like Miami, Portland, Austin and Vegas.

I personally am a huge fan of Uber.  I’ve never really liked cabs, but they’re sometimes the only option when you don’t want to bother with driving and finding parking or for getting around after public transportation has shut down for the night.  My issue with cabs isn’t the cost (though they are way more expensive than walking or taking public transit), it’s the ‘sketch’ factor.  Whether it’s dirty cars, drivers who don’t know where they’re going or drivers who spend the entire ride talking on their cell phone loudly in a language I don’t understand, there’s nothing pleasant about the experience.  Uber eliminates all that; every ride I’ve taken has been in a pristine black sedan with a driver who knew exactly where he was going and was incredibly courteous.

So when I read that a woman in DC had allegedly been raped by her Uber driver, I was really troubled.  Taking a cab is supposed to be the safe decision after a night out when you’ve had a little (or a little too much) to drink, but in this case, it meant putting an already vulnerable person in harm’s way.    Obviously the alleged actions of one driver don’t reflect on the entire Uber system, and interestingly, the way Uber is set up allowed the woman’s attacker to be easily tracked down.  When you order a car, the system keeps track of it and you’ll be sent a receipt with your driver’s name.  Uber also immediately terminated their affiliation with that driver after the allegation was made.  As scary as this story is, I don’t think it reflects a problem with Uber specifically; in DC, complaints by women about sexual harassment or assault by taxi drivers are far too frequent. The problem isn’t with car services or taxis, it’s with rape culture; why anyone’s spending time fighting about whether or not New Yorkers can order cabs via smartphone when there are much, much bigger problems in our society, I have no idea.

So that’s Uber in a nutshell.  What’s your take? Have you used it, do you love it?  Or is it overrated?  Is it not in your city and you wish it was?  Is there any actually safe way to get home after a night out?  Let me know your thoughts!

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