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Safety Concerns Linger with Über & Lyft

When Aristotle wrote “A common danger unites even the bitterest enemies,” back in the 300s BC, he probably wasn’t thinking about the Uber ride-calling app. However, his wisdom holds true with regard to the sides lining up to force state or national regulation of the renegade industry called “ride sharing.”

Most days, I’m on the opposite side of the table negotiating with an insurance company on behalf of a client. But the addition of Über and Lyft to the car-for-hire marketplace has illustrated the gaps that exist between the drivers’ personal auto policies and the company’s insurance (should it even carry it). Insurance companies want to see regulation from the State of Minnesota and I agree with them.

Because this is a field changing rapidly, here are a few 2015 facts & issues to consider before you call for a ride a non-traditional taxi or car service.

Commercial insurance coverage:

Über and Lyft corporate websites claim all passengers are covered by commercial insurance once they’ve entered an Über car. This change bodes well for passenger but still requires the contract driver to carry personal insurance on the car for any time it isn’t in service. The insurance industry wants to see a more universal and enforceable approach to ensure everyone is protected. At the risk of sounding uncool or a buzzkill in the face of disruptive technology, I concur.

Behaviors and backgrounds:

It’s not often you hear of a taxi driver careening into a police car and getting caught with marijuana in the glove compartment. That’s because background checks, drug tests and licensure conduct standards must be met. Über, Lyft and other services claim a new business model that exempts them from regulations currently in place for taxi and limo/hired car companies. As a private company, Uber can claim it’s conducted 2 million background checks on its drivers, but there is no way for the public to know the results.

Similarly, Über has come under scrutiny for allegations that they’ve threatened media outlets that are critical or highly investigative of them. In weighing risk where injury or large amounts of money are involved, I ask 2 big questions. First, what is the likelihood of the injury and what can I do to prepare myself for a less-than-favorable outcome? Second, do I trust the veracity and track record of the other party so that if I do have a questionable outcome, I know what to expect from them?

Personal safety:

No background check can grant assurance that a woman passenger will hire a driver who is respectful and professional. Most drivers in this growing field (as well as established taxi and hired car firms) are men. Drivers who have to report to a dispatcher are under much more scrutiny for productivity than in this new business model. To that end, Über seeks to hire more women to become drivers, thereby giving women passengers a sense of security they otherwise cannot seem to ensure.

Pricing:

So long as these car services fall outside taxi service regulations, trip pricing remains unpredictable. Veteran passengers know pricing is unpredictable and dependent on market conditions. Ask up front for a per-mile estimate. Check your e-mailed receipt pronto. Beware “surge” pricing.

For the past year or so, as the media has focused on these issues, I fall back to the Latin phrase caveat emptor or “let the buyer beware.” In this case, it’s “let the passenger beware.” Common sense isn’t limited by time or geography.