Western University student Hannah Crossgrove is the latest in a long line of dissatisfied Uber customers — though “dissatisfied” might be an understatement. Crossgrove’s Uber driver repeatedly asked her for her number, showed up at her house and pounded on the door when she wouldn’t answer, eventually prompting her to call the police.
The ride-sharing company refunded her fare but wouldn't give her any details about the situation of the driver. Eventually, Uber informed her that the man had been banned from driving for the company, but Crossgrove felt the response was much delayed.
Part of the problem involves the structure of the company itself. Consider how a traditional cab company works: the actions of a cab driver, as a direct employee of a company, reflect poorly on that company, providing them with an incentive to address safety issues. The cab company is responsible for the safety of its riders.
On the other hand, anyone can drive an Uber without any sort of corporate allegiance, training or comprehensive background check. Uber says its drivers are independent contractors, and as a consequence, they have less of an obligation to uphold the company’s values, even if that company repeatedly states their opposition to harassment. As an Uber lawyer has stated before, Uber is a “technology company” that puts strangers together in cars. This makes it easier for the corporation to immediately distance themselves from the actions of its independent contractors. If drivers act inappropriately, Uber can just fire them and forget about it without any further disciplinary action or reparations.
With that said, there’s an argument to be made for consumer choice. Students know the risks of Uber and are willing to sacrifice safety for convenience and savings. Some argue consumers can further protect themselves by giving a different address (a few doors down, say) which should apply both to cabs and Ubers.
At the same time, we have to remember not to blame the victims in these situations. While individuals can be encouraged to be more careful, the onus should be on the powerful corporations like Uber to implement more stringent safety measures.
One possibility suggested by Crossgrove is the ability to request a female driver on the Uber app. There are a few issues to be ironed out here — the option should be limited to female consumers, and the ratio of female to male drivers in any given area would have to be considered. But, it's certainly an avenue Uber could explore.
Ultimately, Crossgrove's Uber experience gone wrong left her scared and rightfully so: instead of acting with transparency, Uber refunded her $7, and left her wondering if any reparations were made. Uber must cooperate not only with the law but also with consumers if they hope to be the people's choice going forward.