Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

In defense of Uber

Published: December 5, 2014
Section: Opinions

Here at Brandeis, we face both the positives and the negatives of living on a suburban campus, relatively disconnected from the bustle of city life. It’s a peaceful and semi-isolated existence, yet to get off campus to other nearby areas, it can sometimes be a challenge. As helpful as taxis can be, more and more students have been using Uber, an alternative method of transportation.

Uber, the private ride-sharing service offered as an alternative to taxi services, has drawn unrelenting criticism on all sides, as it has grown over the years. From the get-go, the service, which allows anyone with a smartphone and the app to hail a ride, has strived to be more efficient than cabs, and although it has met speed bumps along the way, does not deserve the onslaught of disparagement it receives.

When I returned from the Thanksgiving break with a few friends, we found ourselves at the Riverside T Station without a ride back to campus. The campus shuttle had just left, so we would have had to wait another hour for the next one. We called a local cab company, who confessed it would be another thirty minutes before they could take us. Naturally, as tired and weary college students teeming with impatience, we looked for another method. Remembering I had already signed up for Uber, I decided to give the app a try, and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.

The driver pulled up within two minutes, helped us load our baggage into the trunk, and most of all, did not dawdle in the drive. In the past, I’ve taken cabs to campus where the cabbie purposefully took detours and roads with more frequent stops to hike up the meter. Our Uber driver was not like that. Perhaps because it was not a true cab company, the driver was not preoccupied with hiking the meter. It was a prompt trip of no more than seven minutes, the driver went on his way immediately afterward, and no cash was needed.

One of the criticisms of Uber is that it hikes ride prices in certain conditions, especially when demand is higher or road conditions are treacherous. We need to look at this situation through the eyes of an Uber driver. If you were a driver for Uber, maybe trying to make an extra buck by driving some folks around, is it worth your time to sit around in traffic during peak hours when demand is high? Is it worth your safety to drive in treacherous conditions? Those are situations to which many would respond to with “pay me more or I won’t do it.” This is exactly the case for an Uber driver. They don’t have to waste their time nor do they have to risk their lives for the same prices. It’s essentially hazard pay, and these drivers deserve it for making themselves available to serve you.

Among the fixes to the issue of price fluctuations is for the company to simply let the customer know beforehand that the prices may fluctuate, due to traffic, weather, etc. during the ride. This allows customers to be aware of price changes. They can then decide whether to take the ride or not beforehand.

Another issue many have with the ride-sharing service is that they are not a licensed taxi company, nor are all the drivers licensed taxi drivers. They are just regular folks with drivers licenses and cars. The problem is that when something like harassment occurs, who exactly is held accountable? In the past, there have been sexual harassment and rape allegations against Uber drivers, and while the company declares that their number one mission is safety, more could definitely be done to prevent and deal with these situations.

First off, the best way to prevent these situations for ride-sharing services like Uber is to do a more comprehensive background check on prospective drivers. This way the company can hire the right drivers for the job and assure the public that their service is safe.

Second, in the event that something does transpire in a registered driver’s car, whether on duty or off, the company should be held responsible and should not be able to hide behind the fine print of its terms of service. Of course the rider agrees to the terms, but why should the company be allowed to even hide behind such terms? There needs to be some sort of regulation as to the level of responsibility these companies are required to promise to their customers, who place their lives in the hand of strangers with cars.

Obviously, the majority of the drivers are just strangers trying to make some money, but there is bound to be a portion of the pool consisting of malevolent drivers that make it past the current background checks. However, with proper augmentation of terms of services and strengthening of the security of the company, this minority can be rooted out.

For the most part, Uber and other similar ride-sharing services are helpful, faster, and sometimes cheaper alternatives to conventional transportation options. Also, many of its criticisms, while valid, have easy fixes and tend to unfairly hurt the services’ reputations. If we as a society can stop totally focusing on the shortcomings of companies and start working on trying to fix them, situations like what Uber and similar organizations face can be ameliorated.