Uber has been banned in the Indian capital New Delhi after a driver for the company was accused of raping a female passenger.
The anti-Uber lobby--and there is one, literally composed of paid taxi company lobbyists--loves this stuff. For months, taxi companies have been making the case that a pre-booked ride from a professional driver is safer than a ride from Uber. Here's the head of the UK's private-car lobby saying exactly that.
But despite a series of recent high-profile incidents--some involving assaults allegedly committed by Uber drivers--Uber remains one of the safest, if not the safest, ways to order a car.
Let's think through the mechanics in play when you get in a normal taxi.
To be a taxi driver in the UK, applicants need to undergo what's called a DBS check. That check searched for previous criminal convictions. Drivers in London also undergo a medical check to ensure that they're fit to drive. Every driver also has a unique identification number.
Things are slightly different with Uber. First of all, drivers are given criminal background checks in the same way that normal taxi drivers are. But there are some important differences. For example, all Uber cars using the app are tracked using GPS, which means that the company has a record of every journey.
There's also no cash involved with Uber, as payments take place through the app. And unlike taxis, you can't hail an Uber off the street. While hailing a taxi is convenient, it opens up passengers to unlicensed taxis operating illegally. And of course, even if you get a taxi from an official rank, you don't know who the person is at the wheel.
Uber also has a system in which passengers and drivers can rate and--if need be--identify one another. The company is notoriously vigilant when it comes to its driver ratings. It has been speculated that any driver that dips below a 4.7 rating out of 5 is deactivated by the company.
In the normal course of business, drivers and riders know only each other's first names. Riders get to know the cars, photos, and license plates of their drivers, too. It's all automatically recorded in the app. If a dispute arises (or an assault), Uber has a complete record of who was in the car, where the car went, and how long the journey was. That's much more identifying info than a taxi ride generates.
Uber's tracking isn't going to prevent crimes. While the idea of being tracked by GPS will deter some drivers from committing crimes, it's unlikely to stop them altogether. And in the recent rape case in New Delhi, local media reports that the accused driver didn't even have GPS tracking. So something there obviously went wrong.
But is Uber safe to use? Well, in general, yes. But that's not to say the app offers a completely secure experience. No company can do that. But the average Uber ride--with its GPS monitoring, cashless payments, real identity recording, and pre-booking--generates more information about who is in the car, and is therefore likely to be generally safer than a normal taxi.