February 27, 2016

Uber to Passengers: Our Drivers May Be Unsafe


(NewsUSA) - They've reached what you could call the braking point.

Fueled by anger over Uber and other ride-booking services' own warnings that their drivers may pose a "risk," critics are calling for a "Passenger Bill of Rights" that would serve as a stop-gap until lawmakers act to officially crack down on the app-based industry's most egregious safety issues.

Safety -- or the lack of it -- has been a major concern ever since news reports began piling up of ride-booking drivers across the country being arrested for allegedly raping and assaulting passengers. And with the companies fighting efforts to subject their drivers to the same rigorous background checks as taxi and limousine drivers, the last straw may have been the discovery that the "terms of use" posted on their own websites appear to place the burden on passengers to decide who they're willing to entrust their lives to behind the wheel.

"By using the services," Uber states, "you acknowledge that you may be exposed to situations involving third-party providers" -- meaning, their drivers -- "that are potentially unsafe, offensive, harmful to minors, or otherwise objectionable, and that use of third-party providers arranged or scheduled using the services is at your own risk."

And from Lyft, another top industry player: "Users understand and accept that Lyft has no control over the identity or actions of the riders and drivers. . . Drivers and riders use the services at their own risk."

The Bill of Rights intentionally includes all "ground transportation," not just app-based services like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and Whisk. That jibes with the stance of the non-profit National Limousine Association, which suggested the guidelines as part of its "Ride Responsibly" campaign, that "everyone be held to the same standards."

"As the global voice of the private driver transportation industry," said Gary Buffo, the NLA's president, "we feel it is our obligation to promote a safer and more accountable system for passengers and operators."

Among the rights passengers would be entitled to:

* Proof of commercial-for-hire licensing and certifications.

* A safe and courteous driver covered by commercial vehicle insurance (which ride-booking drivers may or may not have).

* A fully vetted and trained driver who's undergone official criminal background checks and pre-hire drug testing.

* Air-conditioning on request.

* Fully functioning seat belts.

* A quoted fare and final charge that match the agreed upon amount.

* Assurance that the vehicle has undergone regular inspections and is certified as being safe.

With a new Harris Poll showing a whopping 91 percent of Americans believe there should be mandatory rules and regulations for ride-hailing drivers, the NLA also stepped up pressure on lawmakers by setting up a website (www.rideresponsibly.org) to provide a forum for public debate on the issue.