Uber has become a modern convenience, making most modes of transportation look outdated. For some, it’s a way to make a living. Others see it as slave labor, or a danger to our society. There are many things lurking beneath the surface of this huge conglomerate that the company just doesn’t want you to know. Here are some stories to keep in mind when you dial up your next Uber ride.
It seems some of Uber’s drivers have a problem with race. According to a joint study done by MIT, Stanford, and University of Washington, Uber was found to discriminate against black passengers. The study, which took place in both Seattle and Boston, sampled data from 1,500 trips in which two female passengers, (one black and one white), and two male passengers (one black and one white) tried to get a ride. The black passengers were left waiting longer and their rides were often cancelled outright.
Stephen Zoepf of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford said, "Frankly, that discrimination exists was not surprising after all the evidence of discrimination elsewhere. It essentially confirmed our suspicions more than anything else."
The study’s authors believe that Uber’s wait time and cancellations were worse in part because Uber drivers can only see a person’s name after they accept their rides. When researchers used the personas of black passengers with stereotypical-sounding names, those people faced twice the cancellation rate as white passengers.
Although Uber is aware of these statistics, they are not planning on doing anything about it. Uber spokesman Rachel Holt commented, "Studies like this one are helpful in thinking about how we can do even more." No word on whether that meant more discrimination.
California District Attorney George Gascon opened a case against Uber in 2015, accusing them of being lax on their background checks. It’s an accusation that’s frighteningly well supported in news stories, including the Kalamazoo Uber driver shooting in February of 2016. As reported in the LA Times, Uber uses Checkr to do their background checks. The company runs the applicant’s name, address, and social security number against the sex offender website. Uber does not use Live Scan, which uses fingerprints and looks for a match with the FBI database. Taxi companies require drivers to complete a Live Scan check. Anyone with a criminal record would be flagged, including arrested sex offenders.
"We have drivers who are convicted sex offenders, identity thieves, burglars, kidnappers, and a convicted murderer, and this is just in LA alone," Gascon said.
Uber’s response is that "No means of transportation is 100 percent safe today." When asked about why they’re not using better background checks, they complain that fingerprints aren’t a foolproof system, and that fingerprint scans are flawed, resulting in a significant percentage of "low quality fingerprints." In actuality, fingerprinting weeds out more questionable, potentially dangerous drivers.
For now, the odds are you may be safer in Syria than in an Uber, especially if you are a teenager, a woman, a New York woman, a 16-year-old girl, a Hawaiian teen, or a California woman. That’s just a cross section, but you get the idea. The horrible, horrible idea. According to Buzzfeed, Uber explains that many of these rape claims are just coming up in Google searches because a lot of their drivers have names that are spelled like "rape." Or maybe they just commit rape. A good ole fingerprinting should sort all that out.
Fake Uber drivers are hijacking riders.
Think you are getting into an Uber? Think again! Passengers at airports such as LaGuardia and JFK in New York City have reported fake Uber drivers approaching them aggressively, promising them the Uber experience. Once at their destination, the drivers hike up the fare and demand more money, sometimes three to four times the estimated amount. The drivers are seen skirting Uber rules (and the real Uber’s background checks) by using clipboards and paper, or just by haggling with potential customers at the airport.
According to CBS New York, thousands of people have encounters with fake Uber drivers every day. There’s so many, they just can’t stomp them out fast enough, especially with no real penalties imposed on the fake drivers. Port Authority hasn’t been able to do much to stop them either, but they do suggest using the regular taxi cabs. Remember, only you can prevent illegal Ubers.
Uber is skimming off the top
Uber is ripping off their own drivers. In an attempt to keep prices competitive, Uber created the upfront pricing model, which allows the passenger to set a fare before the trip has started. Uber keeps a booking fee and 25 percent commission. However, some drivers began to notice a few dollars here and there weren’t making it into their wallets. Those dollars, per fare, added up over time.
According to an interview in Biz Journal, driver Christian Perea (who blogs on The Rideshare Guy) began to take notice of the discrepancies and kept a log. He compared notes with other drivers who had the same losses over time. "I started getting emails from drivers complaining about the change, and did some test trips on my own," said Perea.
Uber was taking more of the fare without notifying the driver. "It’s effectively raising prices while leaving drivers out of the equation," he said. What bothers Perea and the other drivers most is that there is no transparency. Uber takes any amount of money they see fit, with only the vague explanation that it’s based on algorithms. And who understands those things?
Uber is already in hot water with drivers. As reported in Vanity Fair, Uber has faced several class action lawsuits from drivers who want to be seen as employees rather than independent contractors. Whether or not the drivers will be actual Uber employees remains to be seen. However, Uber isn’t winning any points in One Percenter Heaven, being a $63 billion company accused of cheating dollar bills from struggling drivers.
There have been many alleged incidents of Uber drivers making homophobic threats against their riders.
In Atlanta, Project Q reports that an Uber driver allegedly threatened a gay couple in his car with a gun. The couple says that even after they got out at their destination, the driver followed them and continued to threaten them. According to Uber policy, guns are not allowed in Uber vehicles.
Not to be outdone by Hotlanta, Chi-town stepped up their hate game. A woman in Chicago said she was verbally assaulted by her driver, who drove her to a desolate area. According to Vocativ, a woman only identified as Rena M. said she was threatened because she was gay. Rena reported the driver, saying that he "stopped the car in the middle of a busy street in an industrial area, got out of the car, opened my door and threatened to beat me up if I didn’t get out of the car."
We’re not done yet. From Down Under, a driver was accused of threatening to drag one gay couple out of the car, as reported by CNET. Across the pond, a London Uber driver was accused of kicking a couple out of his car for kissing. According to The Independent, the couple said the driver tossed them out with the sentiment, "I don’t want two guys kissing in the back of my taxi." The two passengers said they were frightened, especially since the incident happened not long after the shooting at the Orlando nightclub.
In addition, Fusion reports that one gay couple said they were kicked out of an Uber during gay pride week in San Francisco. You’d think an Uber driver would know what’s up, driving through Gay Pride weekend. Apparently not. We haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to drivers who shouldn’t be operating vehicles for a corporate company, or anywhere near human beings. Uber has fired some of the drivers involved, but still. It sure does seem to hire a lot of hateful, homophobic drivers in the first place.
When you’ve had too much to drink, you call a cab or an Uber to take you safely home. It’s the decent thing to do. What happens when your Uber driver is three sheets to the wind? Apparently it’s happening more than you think. In May 2016, a Wilmington, North Carolina, man was arrested for a DUI while on the job. He had passengers in the car when he was pulled over. According to WNCN, Michael Barnes pleaded guilty to drunk driving with a blood alcohol level of .10. He’s not the only one that’s gotten stopped, and Highway Patrol said they have arrested other North Carolina Uber drivers for drunk driving with passengers.
It’s not just happening in North Carolina, and seems that some Uber drivers nationwide are imbibing and getting behind the wheel. In San Diego, an Uber driver was on shift when he crashed into a party bus, totaling the car. According to KTLA, he then scrapped with officers while being taken into custody.
You would think this would be immediate grounds for dismissal from Uber, however, according to Uber’s policy, they may or may not get fired. Uber relies on reviews from riders. According to their policy, they will fire someone for confirmed use of drugs or alcohol, and they may or may not fire them for passenger reports about substance abuse. So, you know, as long as no one is complaining… have at those beers, drivers.
In fact, Uber’s claim that they are helping to cut down on drunk driving incidents and fatalities isn’t as cut-and-dried as you might think. According to one recent study by the American Journal of Epidemiology, Uber and ride share programs have no effect on the rate of drunk driving accidents or fatalities. With the amount of Uber drivers getting arrested, they might even increase it.
Corruption like you wouldn’t believe
If you are going to take on Uber, be prepared for some nefarious men and House Of Cards level corruption.
When Spencer Meyer tried to bring a lawsuit against Uber for surge pricing, Uber hired a private investigator to drag up dirt on him. It wasn’t just any shadowy, slightly sketchy PI, either, but a firm that was started by the former director of counter-terrorism of the White House National Security Council. That’s some serious muscle. If those guys want to find something damaging about you, they will find something… even if it doesn’t exist. In fact, that is exactly what happened.
Uber, and the company it hired, Ergo, used an unlicensed private investigator named Miguel Santos-Neves, who lied when speaking to Meyer’s friends in order to get information. According to Reuters, the judge presiding over the case banned any information about Meyer because Ergo pretended to be researching "up-and-coming" lawyers, rather than asking questions about the case. That’s not to mention the clear intimidation factor going on here.
US District Judge Jed Rakoff accused Uber and Chief Executive Travis Kalanick of criminal conduct. He pointed out that the investigation was completely condoned by Ergo, and definitely not the least bit cool. While Uber would not admit to wrongdoing, they agreed to not use the information the firm collected about Meyer. If the whole Uber thing doesn’t work out for Kalanick, there may be a cabinet position open.
While Uber seems to think their drivers love them, they couldn’t be more wrong. According to a poll taken by Harry Campbell, better known by his moniker The Rideshare Guy, drivers are just not into Uber. Campbell’s poll, made by an actual driver rather than the company itself, shows that less than half are happy with the conglomerate. Another troubling statistic for the big U is that almost 50 percent prefer driving for Uber’s biggest competitor, Lyft. Even Uber’s own poll states that about half of their drivers quit within one year. Not a glowing endorsement.
Many Uber drivers are unhappy with Uber policies, such as the restriction on hours. Uber recently limited NYC drivers to 12-hour shifts, citing safety concerns. If the drivers work for more than those allotted hours, they will be deactivated. According to The Verge, drivers in the Manhattan markets said they had to increase their hours to make up for Uber slashing their fares. For some drivers, this is their only source of income, and New York City isn’t cheap.
As Uber continued to lower wages, drivers were sent scrambling to protest in hopes of convincing the company they needed to earn a living wage. According to Newsweek, drivers even resorted to organizing strikes in hopes of getting someone’s attention. When things get that bad, the whole idea of "any publicity is good publicity" starts to fall apart. The Uber revolution has begun. The rise of the pink mustache may be in our future.