In recent years, ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have changed the way people commute and navigate their cities. Less than half a decade ago, if you wanted to go from dinner on Newbury to bar hopping in Cambridge, then back to your apartment in Brighton, you would have to either wait for a passing taxicab or take a 50-minute ride on the T (switching from the Red line to the Green line and back again). Today, with Uber or Lyft, you can press a button on your phone, wait inside for two minutes before being picked up, send your estimated arrival time to your friends, and be dropped off at your dorm only minutes later.
The convenience of such technology seems almost too good to be true. Ride-hailing services not only make it easier to get a ride, but have also been developed to make sure you travel to your destination safely. The ways that technology is improving safety in Boston is exciting, but such advancements come with great responsibilities that must be executed by both drivers and riders alike.
Both Uber and Lyft’s websites claim that rider safety is held at a top priority and that the company’s executive management as well as its drivers strive to put forth the most comfortable and reliable experiences for their clients. However, recent events have proven otherwise. In April of this year, more than 8,000 current and recent Uber and Lyft drivers in Massachusetts have been banned from driving under statewide check regulations, according to an article by CNN. The article reports that “the most common reason for rejecting drivers was a previous suspended license” and “more than 1,500 drivers were rejected for a violent crime charge.” Other reasons for failed background checks included driving offenses, felony convictions, and sex and exploitation (the state identifying 51 drivers as sex offenders).
Yet, deficiencies do not solely reside in the drivers. In a report by CBS Boston last month, 16% of surveyed ride-hailing drivers had open safety recalls on their vehicles. These recalls are issued by a manufacturer when mechanical issues may put the safety of drivers and passengers at risk, such as faulty air bags or loose car hoods. Such insufficiencies in safety protocols do not sit well with the population of riders, especially in light of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s forced resignation.
Although Uber and Lyft as corporations are somewhat liable for the safety of their clients and responsible for the competence of their drivers, there are plenty of actions you should take to further ensure your safety as a rider. Be sure to have an accurate understanding of your destination and call for your ride inside, if possible. Avoid waiting outside for your ride for extended periods of time, especially if you are alone. Once your Uber or Lyft arrives, check that the license plate, driver photo, and driver name match the app’s description before you get into the car (Uber and Lyft rides can only be requested through each app, so never get in a car with a driver who claims to be with one of these ride-hailing services and offers you a ride).
If you are riding alone, sit in the back seat and be sure to buckle up. Uber offers the option to share your driver’s name and license plate as well as your estimated arrival time with friends and family members. Share this contact information with your friends, but never share your phone number or other personal information with your driver. If a rider and driver need to contact each other, these ride-hailing apps anonymously connect both phone numbers to protect everyone’s privacy.
Most importantly, follow your intuition. If you ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe during a ride, use your best judgment in the situation and call emergency services immediately. If mutual respect is maintained for both the driver, the rider, and the driver’s vehicle, ride-hailing services will function with the utmost efficiency for everyone involved.