L.A. News Piece on Uber Highlights Its Dangers, Which Appear to Be the Same as Taking Taxis


Stranger danger everywhere!
Credit: afagen / photo on flickr

When you call a ride-sharing service, you're accepting a ride from a stranger! Oh, sure, you can say the same when call a cab or even ride a bus, but the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles wants us to see this is as something different or sinister somehow. Last night, it aired "Risky Ride: Who's Behind the Wheels of Uber Cars?" The piece aims to terrify us all with the idea that these strangers may have criminal backgrounds and questions the thoroughness of the company's background checks.

To illustrate the problem, they got Beverly Locke to apply to become an UberX driver. Locke is an ex-con with a "20-year rap sheet [that] includes burglary, cocaine possession, and making criminal threats with the intent to cause death or bodily injury." She says she's reformed now and wants to "make up for her past." She passed the background check and was hired as a driver. NBC filmed her getting her first call for a pickup but then had the passenger cancel, as if after getting Locke's participation and filming her they thought she'd just beat up or rob the guy anyway.

NBC highlights a couple of recent cases of Uber driver problems, including the San Francisco driver arrested on New Year's Eve in San Francisco for hitting and killing a girl. He had a previous conviction for reckless driving. Another driver arrested for assaulting a passenger had a 2012 DUI conviction.

NBC also tracked down a local couple that had a very bad experience with an UberX driver. He brought them home from an airport, dumped their luggage and then raced off with the couple's briefcase, purse, iPad and wallet in the back. When they contacted him (on Uber you can directly get back in touch with your driver), he apparently refused to return their stuff and that he was not responsible for items left in their car.

Without defending Uber, doesn't this sound like a familiar experience for anybody who has left anything behind in a taxi? NBC notes that when the couple contacted Uber, the response was that the drivers were not Uber employees but private contractors. This is treated like an important critical problem. But the Uber response also says that they're "deactivating" the driver and keeping him from accepting more passengers and said they'll cooperate with police. The NBC report ignores this part of Uber's response (I had to freeze-frame the television report to read the e-mail shown), which is pretty shady.

It's obvious that the point of the NBC expose is to suggest that cab drivers, with their heavily regulated system and fingerprinting, are safer, and so Uber passengers are taking on additional safety risks in exchange for saving a few dollars on a trip. Regulation saves us! But a Google check will find instances of the exact same problems with "licensed" taxi services. In January, Pando.com did take a look at some of Uber's problems with background checks and attempts to figure out how Uber might be missing crimes it should be catching (answer: it depends on the quality of the background checks).

As Uber is getting more attention, it's getting more criticism. Arguably that's a good thing. Uber providing a valuable service customers want doesn't make it a saint, and sometimes its response to competition can be as problematic as those of the entrenched taxi companies. NBC also notes that Uber is far from the only ride-sharing service out there. If Uber does not do a good job at protecting the safety and property of its customers, then competitors, including traditional cab services, will be able to push them out of the market. This is true regardless of how much regulation local governments push on them.

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  1. Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t let just anyone drive a taxi!

    1. Seriously… those medallions magically create an aura of impermeable lawfulness, honesty, and safe driving. Not to mention state revenue!

      1. As a former taxi driver I don’t know whether to laugh or facepalm when someone trots out negative anecdotes about Uber drivers as if they could not be matched or exceeded by regular, cartel taxi drivers.

        1. Apt name Troll!
          Cartels fix prices and rules, taxi drivers do NOT! They do get drug tested, their criminal backgrounds checked by FBI, their vehicles inspected at least once annually, their driving records tracked and full commercial insurance. Perfect they’re not, but compared to Uber they are in a different league. Then again you may be the type who wants your loved ones be driven by a stoned ex-con driving a vehicle that has not been seen inside a mechanic’s shop in years.

    2. When you get a license from a state licensing agency you’re saying to the world, “Look at me, world! I passed a written exam!” But those Uber drivers, well, you don’t see them bragging about passing exams. So you know they’re just going to rob you, rape your grandmother, and make unflattering remarks about your children on Facebook.

      1. Don’t worry Rocket Scientist!
        Them Uber saints will more likely ignore your grandma like they do half the population without smartphones, your children will likely agree if those remarks are about you being a sucker who was taken for ten times the advertised rate. After all only 15% of their drivers are likely to use drugs and unless you tell them you got some, they have no “Reason” to rob you.

  2. Standard Proggy/Luddite Operating Procedure Manual, chapter 1 paragraph 1:

    If something’s relatively new, attack any outlier cases that may exist against it, suggesting it’s common. A great example is Edison and the Electric Chair. Attack any defenders of new technology/product viciously; use any and all ad-hominems and appeals to emotion available to denigrate product.

    1. use any and all ad-hominems and appeals to emotion available

      That is what leftists call a compelling argument.

    2. Also demand nothing less than absolute perfection from the proposed alternative even if you can’t argue that it is not a dramatic improvement over the status quo. See: continued progressive support of prohibition.

      1. “Absolute perfection” is for the birds and fools. But I’ll take driver drug testing, FBI criminal background checks, vehicle inspections, driving record monitoring and full commercial insurance as “status quo” any time over cheep rates and cookies.

    3. Awwww, Topsy.

  3. The NBC report ignores this part of Uber’s response (I had to freeze-frame the television report to read the e-mail shown), which is pretty shady.

    Well, yeah. They’ve got a narrative to maintain.

    1. Talk about “narrative to maintain” to the author of this article.
      Wichita must have been using the same company for criminal background checks as Uber. So when Uber comes to Wichita those 1 in 10 cab drivers with felonies will have no problem finding a job. On the other hand in MILLIONS of trips in LA I haven’t heard of a single ex-con.
      Then again, there is only a 70%+ chance that an ex-con will commit another felony so why not give them another chance in the name of building a friendlier community and safer transportation option.

  4. I have seen some really shady shit with “licensed” cab drivers. Really, really shady.

  5. …” when the couple contacted Uber, the response was that the drivers were not Uber employees but private contractors. This is treated like an important critical problem.”

    In SF, the Yellow Cab drivers are not employees; they lease the cars.

    1. Yeah, but they’re talking about the new guys, not the entrenched ones, and the media made “contractors” a scare word about a decade ago.

  6. If you don’t see Tony commenting here, is because (like he said) he agrees with everything that is being said here.

  7. A San Francisco cab driver raped and murdered a woman about 10 years ago.

    1. A San Fran cab driver scared hell out of Sevo and wife on a trip to the airport. I finally told him to get off the freeway; the car was uncontrollable above about 45MPH.
      I’d say people who own the cars they’re using have the incentive to keep them in better repair.

      1. Where are you on this map?

        I’m guessing Hobo Blowjobs.

        1. We used to have a house in San Francisco. It was pretty much halfway between where it says “Audi Strollers” and “Best Safeway”. Moved out to the hilly suburbs in 1999 though. SF has always been really bizarre and splintered in the 28 years I’ve been in the Bay Area, this new stuff is just the present version.

          1. When I first went to college, I asked my uncle, a silicon valley exec, for advice on moving to the bay area. The only advice he had was “Don’t go to Hunter’s Point. Don’t you dare ever go to Hunter’s Point!”.

            Every time I saw him for the next 4 years, he reminded me not to go to Hunter’s Point.

        2. Almost to the water east of there; best pizza isn’t too far.

        3. Oh, and I’ve yet to meet the ‘floating libertarians’ at the house boats; should be called ‘smelly when Pelosi’s in town or the tides is out’

    2. I’m sure he’s rehabilitated by now and driving for Uber!!!

  8. I took a taxi last week, and the driver let me keep smoking my cigarette. Nice fellow.

  9. As Uber is getting more attention, it’s getting more criticism.

    From anti-market or anti-freedom zealots, and government cronies, most of the time. The problem is not the criticism coming from people who may or may not be genuinely concerned about this new ride-sharing system; the problem is members of the mass media LYING about what Uber and business like it are, mean or do.

    1. I agree! What right do those “anti-market or anti-freedom zealots, and government cronies” have to keep us from letting Uber and Lyft lower our transportation cost by skimping on insurance, avoiding drug testing their drivers and vehicle inspections and running Micky mouse criminal background checks. All I want is some company to blow smoke up my a… about their safety, community and prices. There is absolutely no reason they should have to deal with the elderly, disabled and low income communities if they don’t want. After all it’s their and our freedom at stake to be complete morons and egotists!!!

  10. Tangentially related, but what the fuck is the deal with Dallas cab drivers? They are without a doubt the slowest drivers on the road, not even approaching 60 on the goddamn interstate.

    1. Maybe they know the condition of the cabs.

  11. So some Uber drivers do bad stuff? And a lack of regulation is to blame? The underlying assumption there is that regulation prevents bad stuff from happening, which is, of course, laughable on its face. But it never gets state explicitly in these scare pieces, and never seems to be called out and challenged. Strange that. It’s almost like there is an agenda at work here.

    The other underlying assumption is that a lack of government licensing/regulation necessarily implies that there is no regulating mechanism at work. Which, again, is laughable on its face. But for some reason, self-regulation in the free market is ignored until it fails, at which point the solution is always government regulation. And when government regulation fails? Well, we all know how that goes. Strange how all eventualities lead to more power for government. It’s almost like there is an agenda at work here.

    1. regulation prevents bad stuff from happening

      Um HELLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOO – we banned guns on military bases, and NO MORE killings on military bases! Slurpees over 16 oz in NYC, and now no one has the diabeetus!

      Jesus Christ – we regulate because it WORKS!

      /Reality-Based person

      1. Um HELLLLLLOOOOOOOO! We banned guns on military bases so there would be LESS killing. Just like we regulated airlines so there would be less planes falling out of the sky. Just like we regulated banks so at least SOME of your money would be safe. Just like we regulated building construction so MORE buildings would be standing after an earthquake or tornado. Just like we regulated doctors, car manufacturers, pharmaceuticals….
        The only perfect place with no accidents, human error, greed… is in a place none of us are in a hurry to get to. So those darn regulations are only as infallible as we are.

  12. I made an appointment with a taxi company one time to take my wife and iIto the airport, early in the morning. The guy never showed and I had to call back and yell at the dispatcher and just as we were getting ready to drive there and pay to park, a taxi showed up. He was telling us all these crazy stories about transporting things in his trunk for some shady guy and then at a stoplight said “Why don’t you pet Daisy?”, and pulled a dirty little Jack Russell terrier from the passenger seat for me to pet. He also drove like a maniac and I wouldn’t let him stop on the way to the airport to get gas because we were really late.

    In contrast, when I took Uber 2 weeks ago, the driver offered us fresh baked cookies.

    1. the driver offered us fresh baked cookies

      I would be immediately suspicious of that and request a different driver.

      1. They were from a late-night cookie delivery place in the neighborhood. He didn’t bake them.

        1. Cookie… delivery? How? What? …does not compute.

          My brain may have to reboot.

          1. INSOMNIA COOKIES!
            I accidentally ate an oatmeal raisin one and even that was good.

    2. Well, I certainly hope those cookies were individually wrapped, and prepared in a county-inspected kitchen with 3 sink basins and the required board feet of shelving!

    3. He lured you with sweets?!?

  13. Isn’t NBC the same outfit that did the hitpiece on the Chevy pickup “sidesaddle” gastanks? I think it was CBS (60 Mins?) who did the hitpiece on the Audi 5000 back in the day.

    Regardless – MSM = “I don’t watch/listen to you any more anyway”, neither nationally nor locally.

    So – I take it for what it’s worth. How the locals process it – who knows.

    1. Stupid crap like that sells, I guess.

  14. Perhaps NBC will air a companion peice,

    Risk Taxis!: Can you trust a Muslim taxi driver?

    Heck, they could cite they the following article,

    “But another wave of sex crimes involves predatory Muslim taxi drivers who are raping female passengers. The number of so-called taxi rapes is snowballing to such an extent that a British judge has issued a warning that no woman can expect to be safe while traveling in a cab.”

    I am sure they can find poor victims of brutal Moselem assualt victims.

  15. Pretty much every taxi I’ve experienced, the drivers all reeked of BO, and if not the driver, the car definitely did.

  16. Easy solution: privatize roads. Then there won’t be anything for these homicidal maniacs to drive on.

  17. NBC Chicago did the exact same story last night, localizing it by using an undercover camera here and blending it with some of the video from the California story. During sweeps week networks will send out “packages” for investigative reporter teams, consumer reporters and the like. The local stations will then take some of the canned video the network sends them, combine it with stuff they shoot locally and voila, you have a Sweeps Week Special on “A troubling new thing that will probably kill you…tonight at 10.”

  18. Oh cut the TV station some slack. May sweeps started on Thursday. 🙂

  19. For all those geniuses who love “new business models”, hate regulations, non-existing “taxi cartels” (since they can NOT create or enforce regulations) and can’t live without them cookies, I have a great idea! Get together and create an airline for yourselves which does not inspect its planes, who’s pilots are stoned alcoholics just out of jail and who get your full name, cell phone number and address so they can create a friendlier community with your daughter, wife and mother. Just before you get to that plane, why not put all your money into a bank where deposits are NOT guaranteed by that pesky, overreaching BIG GOVERNMENT, right after you see that unlicensed doctor and sign a contract with an unlicensed contractor to build your next house all at a fraction of the cost those “anti-market or anti-freedom zealots, and government cronies” are forcing you to pay. I’m sure we’d all be much, MUCH happier; you in that “new” house at the cemetery and the rest of us would not have to read these mindless, ignorant rants masquerading as “Reason”.

  20. Not only in san fransico but also in france, uber taxi has been vandalized due to such kind of disputes. Despite uber is familiar taxi dispatch software to hail taxi, still they want to improve their safety measures and do not go beyonds to competetion.

  21. As a taxi cab owner i know the business inside out
    Yes theres some flaws with taxis and yes the uber /lyft are convenient… But taxis are strongly regulated Which means they have year and mileage limits restrictions depending on your city / also semi annually inspections to make sure there completely safe for customers.drivers go thru several tests drug tests background checks.driving tests to get there taxi license along with there drivier license and they usually have to renew every year to go thru same process
    uberx n lfyt allow any joe shmo with a driver license and a personal car year 2000 n up to pick up customers..
    For one they could Olny have basic personal insurance if any insurance at all . Which means if you and your family/friends god forbid get into a bad accident you probably wont get any coverage from your driver…which means all your hospital bills are on you , i mean you could sue the driver personally (good luck with that) ..
    All taxis are registered n insured by the taxi cab corporation which requires for full personal injury coverage for customers in the cab..also drivers have to be accepted by insurance before they can drive a cab so if they have points and accidents they will not be allowed to drive

    1. drive. As for feeling safe cabs have partitions for the passenger and the drivers safety .to separate the two .. I know the apps they have may sound great and be easy to use but you really are putting yourself at risk using uber x / lyft Just to save a cpl bucks theres reason why taxis have been around forever
      Not to mention you dont know wat there charging your credit card until you get out and our billed they can charge you 300% increase in snow or rain or holidays
      Taxis have regulated meters and can olny go by there meters so you know exactly how much at the end of your ride
      Happy to debate with any uberx supporters

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