Written by Culture Map
Since Uber arrived in Houston about 14 months ago, I have been an avid user. In fact, I would venture to say I have been one of the biggest fans of the ride sharing app. Gone were the days of fighting for parking downtown or trying to toss a coin to see which friend would be doomed to drive on a night out. For me, Uber has usually been a pleasant experience with friendly, personable drivers.
Besides minor GPS issues, I haven’t had much of a problem with the service.
However, recent headlines of a Houston Uber driver arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a female passenger surfaced raised questions of the app’s safety procedures. Duncan Eric Burton was charged with a second-degree felony and remains in jail without bond.
In light of the news, I asked fellow Houstonians who use Uber frequently if cases such as this would deter them from using the app, as well as their thoughts on how to ensure safety when using the service.
“I have never once thought I was in danger either from the driver or the actual ride itself,” says 30-year-old Steven James, a retail manager and an avid Uber user. “I wouldn’t say a handful of situations should stop anyone from using Uber. That would be almost like saying if one plane crashes, they all crash.”
While the idea of getting into a stranger’s car may make some people wary, Uber claims to have a system in place to ensure riders safety. According to their website, the company goes through a three-step background check of each driver.
In Houston, drivers must also apply for a Transportation Network Company (TNC) license in order to legally operate in the city, which includes a more thorough background check than the one done by Uber. The company admitted it didn’t know if all of their drivers had a TNC license, which was the case of Burton, who continued to drive for Uber up to two months after the incident, and had a previous drug conviction.
Following the controversy, Mayor Annise Parker demanded that Uber come up with a plan to bring all of their drivers under compliance. The mayor then wrote in a letter to Uber, “I am pleased to see that Uber appears to have taken affirmative steps to end their willful non-compliance and look forward to a report confirming these efforts from my regulatory staff,” after Uber cracked down on their unlicensed drivers.
Still, following the disturbing news, some users are more cautious of using the app.
“I’m definitely a bit more worried when it comes to using Uber and would only use Uber in a group and never alone,” said Stevanna Daniel, a 22-year-old student who has used the app in multiple cities. “I think that Uber should enforce stricter background checks when it comes to hiring drivers and provide customers with more than just a name and picture of their Uber driver when using their services.”
Whenever I need transportation, Uber is the first thing that comes to mind, but cases like this remind me to always remain vigilant. While I admire the innovation behind ride sharing, I realize that in a big city like Houston it requires regulations that will protect both the driver and rider. I believe the mayor was right to demand Uber’s compliance with the city laws, especially if it could have caught someone like Burton beforehand, and kept the young woman safe. However, I won’t be canceling my Uber account anytime soon since I’ve become accustomed to the convenience.
Although tragedies like this occur, I, along with other Houstonians, believe that Uber is here to stay. It will take a joint effort from both Uber and the City of Houston to ensure that the riders are safe. It may even require an update to the way the company operates, as Abel Rocha, a 20-year-old frequent user of the app, suggests.
“One of the things that I have always found to be weird is that the Uber user does not notify the app when they have been dropped off… I feel there needs to be some sort of mutual agreement via the app when the destination has been reached,” said Rocha, suggesting there should be a way for both the driver and the rider to “end” the ride, signaling Uber.
“I feel that I personally will still use Uber. Knowing that this could happen, I will have to take extra precautions to make sure that someone knows that I have gotten home and that someone knows where I am.”