If you’re a fan of Uber, I’ve got some bad news for you: As of April 17, every time you use the car service you'll have to pay an extra "Safe Rides Fee", seemingly to make sure you don't get assaulted. It's only a buck, but that doesn't mean it's not absolutely ridiculous. Seriously, Uber? Safety should not be optional, and it certainly shouldn’t be something we have to pay extra for. As ValleyWag put it on Monday, “it’s only a dollar, but since when do we have to pay extra to not get raped?”
According to Uber’s blog, the extra dollar “supports the increased costs associated with our continued efforts to ensure the safest platform for Uber riders and drivers. Those include industry-leading background check process, regular motor vehicle checks, driver safety education, current and future development of safety features in the app, and insurance.” The blog entry about the fee also states that “for complete pricing transparency, you’ll see this as a separate line item on every uberX receipt.”
It’s true that Uber and other services like it are in need of greater safety precautions. The Daily Beast has covered in depth a number of questionable incidents involving the app; sexual harassment and stalking of passengers by drivers has been a major concern, and when the company hired 50 drivers to give free rides to attendees at last year’s SXSW, they got them off of Craigslist. The drivers were apparently given only the most cursory of background checks and a mere 45-minute orientation — 20 minutes of which was filling out forms. The worst incident happened back in January, when an Uber driver hit and killed a six-year-old girl in San Francisco. Although the company did eventually deactivate the driver’s account, they denied any responsibility whatsoever.
But putting it on the consumer to make sure those safety precautions are taken? Bad move. I don’t know about you, but when I hire a cab, I want to know that my driver will not harass me and that I’ll get to my destination unharmed. I don’t want to think that my safety is dependent on me paying extra. If you really need more money to make sure your product is safe, then just raise the prices. Don’t tell us that we have to pay more to be safe.
Also, I’m not inclined to believe them when they say they say they’re aiming for “complete pricing transparency,” and here’s why: I got roped into signing up for an Uber account when one of their street marketing folk accosted me while I was covering New York Fashion Week last fall. I knew I was never going to use it, but I’m a pushover and couldn’t figure out a way to gracefully exit the conversation (it’s a bad fault — I’m working on it); as such, I ended up with an account I didn’t want or need. Later on, I emailed them and asked them to delete my account, which (after a lot of “Are you suuuuuuuuuuuuuure?” emails), they did. But you know what I didn’t know about Uber until I started reading about it online? That the drivers aren’t professional cab drivers. Although it’s now pretty well-known how the app operates, nowhere in their initial schpiel did they tell me that essentially it’s a high-tech version of hitchhiking. So, y’know, forgive me, Uber, if I’m not willing to roll with you on this one.
Maybe I'm just not Uber's target market. But then again, if this is how they handle what should be a basic necessity, maybe nobody should be their target market.