Editorial: Worth the Ride?

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College students are no stranger having to use public transportation in order to get from Point A to Point B. In the Bay Area, it almost impossible for anyone to not have to use either the bus, train, or a light-rail transit. We are fortunate to have such a wide-range of services. Many students also prefer to use ride-hailing apps which is more direct than using another form of public transit. The plethora of ways for students to get around without a driver’s license is very diverse.

However, the tactic of calling an Uber or Lyft draws out people from a crowd. We must be more aware of the dangers that these ride-hailing companies bring, more than just making sure it takes us where we need to be.

Both Uber and Lyft have been criticized for not sufficiently evaluating their drivers and not prioritizing passenger safety. Both companies say passenger safety is their top priority and have stood by their background-check processes.

Yet, the death of 21-year-old Samantha Josephson, a senior at the University of South Carolina, at the hands of a man she believed to be her Uber driver, shows the vulnerability that we as college students possess. Josephson was enjoying a night out with friends before calling an Uber. Instead of taking her back to her place as she had thought, the driver, 24-year-old Nathaniel David Rowland, kidnapped and drove her 70 miles away from her pickup spot. It was later revealed by police that Josephson died from “multiple sharp force injuries.”

This attack could happen anywhere, and we shouldn’t look past this because the rapid increase of ridership between Uber and Lyft have gone up in the Bay Area. In a report by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) over 5,700 vehicles are out during peak hours (6:30 p.m. – 7 p.m.). That’s almost 15 times the amount of taxis on San Francisco streets at any time.

A new movement started by South Carolina students called #WhatsMyName has now reached a wider audience with the goal of spreading all around the world. The students are testing their Uber or Lyft drivers by asking what the name of their rider is before getting in the car. Along with asking for the correct name, sharing your ride with another person or monitoring the ride and making sure the windshield icon matches up with the one on your phone are other ways to make sure it’s a safe ride.

Lawmakers in South Carolina have proposed a new law, in name of Josephson, that would require all Uber and Lyft vehicles to have the windshield icons in order to prevent another incident from happening. In addition, Josephson’s parents launched Whatsmyname.org to stretch the narrative to its highest degree.

Uber’s response to the death of Josephson was to “remain focused on raising public awareness about this incredibly important issue.” Back in 2017, Uber did publish a public awareness campaign with five ways to track rider safety, but none stress actual communication with the driver, only matching information of the vehicle.

These are not the only crimes committed by Uber drivers. A 2018 CNN report revealed that 103 Uber drivers have been accused of sexual assault or abuse. Out of the 103 crimes, 31 drivers have been convicted of crimes ranging from forcible touching to rape.

As for Lyft, they seem to be the model for standard procedures. Within the last month, they have announced two new features to enhance rider safety and security: continuous background checks and enhanced identity verification. Before becoming a driver, they must pass a criminal background check and continue to do so at least every 12 months.

For us college students, we shouldn’t have to think twice when we wish to get to our next destination. The ride-hailing companies have made it easier for us to get around, but now we must keep in the back of minds, who exactly is taking us from Point A to Point B.