Riding in Cars with Men: The Joy and Fear of Using Uber

I have epilepsy.  I was officially diagnosed with it on October 22, 2015.  We always knew something was up – I would freeze up at the most inopportune times to the concern of my family.  When I collapsed at the beginning of the year, my initial diagnosis was psychiatric non-epileptic seizures (otherwise known as PNES, something that I’ve been trying my whole life to get away from).  This was my first foray into the world of losing my independence and losing my ability to drive.

I have a love-hate relationship with driving.  I love the independence it gives me, the control; I can listen to my own music and take my own route. I can talk in the car and no one bothers me.  But driving tires me out, especially  after my PNES diagnosis, and I hate it. On a good day with no traffic, my half-hour commute is enough to kill me. Most days have traffic.

A lot of the time, I have to rely on my family to help me get around.  My boyfriend is a professional driver for a trucking company, and my wife is happy to fill in the gaps.  But they can’t accommodate my schedule all the time.

That’s where Uber steps in. Uber is a taxi application that allows me to hail an independent driver with their own car. It’s both a godsend and a curse at the same time. It’s convenient, cheap, and extremely scary to use.  It’s scary because unlike taxi companies which are at least somewhat regulated, Uber isn’t. They don’t even meet their drivers in person before they allow them to start accepting fares. I suppose you could expect as much from a company that is sketchy enough to call their employees “independent contractors” in order deny them certain employee benefits. I try to use Lyft, which I find to be less seedy, but they don’t have as many drivers in my area and aren’t always available.

So, I spend a lot of my time riding in the cars with strange men. Most of the time – all of the time so far – this goes as well as you’d hope – nothing happens. But, some women aren’t as lucky. There are reports of a Uber drivers all over the world raping women. In fact, there is an entire website dedicated to calling out instances of abuse or impropriety by drivers.

So, yeah, I’m going to have my guard up when I ride with an Uber driver.

Uber, to their credit, has historically backed legislation that would regulate the ridesharing industry more, such as a bill in Massachusetts that would give the state more oversight to require background checks and other regulations. That’s great and all, but Uber has yet to say a word about the 34 alleged incidents of sexual assault committed by their drivers since mid-2013.

I’d feel a lot better using their service if they would even acknowledge these assaults. They need to do better background checks on their drivers. Even one incident is way too many.  There are simple ways they could attempt to address this problem from within the app. For instance, the Uber app tracks your position as you’re in the car, so they could build in a panic button to immediately call the authorities and/or report your driver for wrong doing. The bottom line is that Uber needs to do a better job of keeping their riders safe.

I’d like my customer relationship with Uber to be an empowering one. It allows me to feel independent when I actually am not. But I don’t want to support a company that is deeply problematic just because it’s convenient. We should demand better from the company or support more ethical alternatives.

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