Uber Drivers’ Mixed Signals

Forget calling a cab. The new transportation service Uber advertises that there are easier ways to catch a ride home. The Uber software locates drivers near a desired area and with the tap of an app on a smartphone, a sleek, black vehicle picks up passengers quickly. Uber uses GPS to locate a pick-up location and connects the rider with Uber drivers living nearby. When an Uber ride is requested, the software automatically charges the user’s credit card connected to the account, avoiding the hassle of carrying cash or calculating the proper tip.

twitter Its features are convenient for passengers and the service provides jobs since anyone can be an Uber driver. Unlike traditional cab company drivers, Uber drivers only clock in during times they are driving. Uber’s popularity is also spreading across social media platforms with 273,000 “likes” on Facebook and 101,000 Twitter followers.

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However, problems have surfaced regarding questionable drivers. Uber claims to do background checks on all drivers and guarantees they are licensed and insured. But, in March 2014, an Uber driver was arrested in Washington, D.C. for allegedly raping a 20-year-old passenger. According to an article by the Business Insider, Uber’s general manager Rachel Holt said in a statement that the driver was let go from the company and has not driven for Uber since. In a separate case, a woman from Chicago sued Uber stating that the driver had groped her and refused to let her out of the car. Again, in response to the incident Uber deactivated the driver’s account.

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In an article published by The Daily Beast, the writer described her strange experience  when an Uber driver took a full-length picture of her earlier in the day and then showed it to her when driving her home later. According to the article, Uber’s response was to add $20 of Uber credit to her account and deactivate the account of the driver. She also noted an inconsistency in responses she received regarding the protection of her private information since the Uber driver emailed her after he lost his job.

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In response to the sexual assault incidents, Uber announced that it would expand background checks. However, some question if the company will follow through on the promise or if it is just for show.

Has Uber been responsible in their responses to these incidents? What other public relations problems might occur in the future? Is it fair to single out Uber as more unsafe than a conventional taxi?

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