Rideshares: The Safe Alternative?

Rideshare services, like Uber and Lyft, market themselves on being a “safe” alternative to taxis and driving oneself. Safer than driving intoxicated from a party, (Or waiting for a cab, if you’ve been in a coma for the past 10 years) rideshares boast live, in-app tracking and location sharing options so that riders can remain at ease while traveling. But with stories coming out so frequently about passengers being attacked and stalked by drivers, one question comes to mind, is ridesharing really that much safer?

As a young woman who uses ridesharing services frequently, I have my own “creepy driver” stories. For example, I was taking an Uber from Eagle Rock to Venice and was asked out by my 35-year-old driver — after he found out I had just turned 18. He did this while going 90 mph down the 10 freeway at midnight. With no escape route, I did what most girls are accustomed to doing: texted a friend, begged her to call and stay on the phone with me through the duration of my ride. And she did what most girl friends are also accustomed to doing. She called immediately.

My stories aren’t lacking, for instance a driver once noted we lived in the same area and proceeded to ask me my daily schedule so he could “come by and hang out sometime.” Or when another driver asked what bars I frequented because he’d love to “take [me] home” sometime, a double entendre that still makes me cringe to think about. Two things worth noting is that I was a teenager during these instances, while these men were between the ages of 35 and 50. In every single situation, I didn’t have the power to say no. Being at the mercy of the driver, the thing I feared most is the inability to leave if he had a bad reaction to my rebuff. So in fear, I laughed off these uncomfortable situations. All of this was out of fear of physical confrontation.

Unfortunately, stories like mine aren’t uncommon. Samantha Decker, a student at GCC had her own story. In hers, the driver refused to listen to her demands he pull over and kept insisting she join him on a breakfast date instead. She resorted to jumping out of the car at a traffic stop after a series of vague responses she used in hopes of keeping the situation from escalating were ignored. When asked if she had any advice for women in similar situations, Decker said, “You can’t necessarily retaliate, because you don’t want to get attacked […] Realistically, I would say, just tell them you have some sort of an issue, make an excuse, have them stop the car. Get out, Uber will give you your money back. Just get out of the situation” Decker said, adding Uber wasn’t much help after she reported him. “They gave me sort of a generic response. They gave me my money back,” She said, adding she requested in her report that they take the situation seriously. “They didn’t say they were reprimanding him.”

And sometimes, even if the ride has ended, the harassment hasn’t. Jennifer Andres, a film student at CSULA, was on her way to political protest a few days after the 2016 presidential election when her driver asked her out. “He was trying to talk to me throughout the ride,” she said, stressing her responses were mostly one worded in hopes of conveying her uninterest. “When the ride ended I just got out so he didn’t have a chance to talk to me.” It was then, when she assumed the harassment window had closed, that an unknown number called her. “He said, ‘Hey, this is your Lyft driver!’ and I assumed I left something in the car. When I asked if I had, he said he was calling to ask me out.” Andres said, a sheer feeling of disbelief engulfed her. “I made an excuse, said I was busy and asked him to text me. I figured it would be easier to ignore that way. But then!” she continued, “He asked for my number!” Apparently the driver had abused the emergency call option rideshare companies give drivers if they have trouble locating a rider. It was then that she panicked, “I gave him my number really fast and hung up. Maybe he didn’t hear me or maybe he got the hint, but he never texted me,” she said with a sigh of relief.

If services like Uber and Lyft leave too much up to chance, there are alternatives designed specifically with safety in mind. HopSkipDrive, an app particularly designed, operated and used by mothers for their children, was created by moms for moms to transport kids from school to home and everywhere in between. The app features an option of tracking the ride live through a call system, giving parents peace of mind with drivers who are also mothers themselves.

There are other apps, like Safr, that cater directly to women of all ages. The app is exclusively for female passengers and female drivers, with a goal of “Turning neighborhoods into sisterhoods,” according to the company’s website. Despite options like these being available, they aren’t as popular. Similar apps, like See Jane Go, another female only rideshare service, closed its doors earlier this year.

Realistically speaking, most of us will continue using Uber and Lyft for a multitude of reasons. With an array of safety features like location sharing and 911 calling within the app, hopefully they will continue taking steps in the right direction despite the long road ahead.