Feature

Is ride sharing safe?

Green Lifestyle

Ride-sharing schemes can help to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions by helping passengers to car pool with local drivers on the road. But their ethics and safety has been questioned, so we took a look into the issue.

thelma-and-louise-car

Thelma and Louise proved that you should only ever share a ride with someone trustworthy...

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Gone are the days of trying to hail a taxi on a busy street corner or waiting on hold in bad weather for an operator to organise your pick-up. If you catch taxis and have a smartphone, you’ve probably noticed a bunch of new apps appear in the taxi-booking game that promise to make getting home after a big night out a whole lot quicker and cheaper.

And the eco benefits are many, with local drivers connected with passengers needing a ride from nearby helping to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions. But are these new players safe, especially late at night after you’ve enjoyed a few beverages?

A changing taxi industry
Popular apps like Uber, goCatch, Backseat.me, ingogo, and Lyft allow you to book, track and pay your driver directly – without a single phone call or cash changing hands. Ultimately, the apps bypass the centralised process of booking and paying, connecting passengers with drivers who are close by.

While some services like goCatch and ingogo connect registered taxi drivers with customers, others like Uber, Backseat.me and Lyft provide ride share services where people provide transportation to others in their own cars for a fee.

Unsurprisingly, the highly centralised taxi industry has its knickers in a knot. It’s particularly concerned about UberX, the company’s low-cost ride share service that can save customers up to 50% when compared to traditional taxi fares.

The Taxi Services Commission says UberX is in fact illegal because it uses unaccredited drivers and unlicensed vehicles, which puts the safety of both passengers and drivers at risk. “Taxi and hire car services provide a legal transport option for the entire community,” says chair Graeme Samuel. “These services are regulated, making them a safer travel option for the entire community.”

In response, Uber says: “All ride sharing partners must be at least 21 years of age and drive a registered, 2005 or later model four-door vehicle under a full driver’s licence. All ride sharing partners must also pass a rigorous criminal history police check as well as undergoing a driving history check provided by the state transport authorities – The Roads and Maritime Services in New South Wales, VicRoads in Victoria and the Department of Transport and Main Roads in Queensland.” As a minimum, all ride sharing partners are also required to have a current policy of compulsory third party and third party property insurance.

The verdict
Diane Leonard, a Sydney-based digital marketing manager, regularly uses UberX to get home after a late night in the office or a work event at which she’s had a few drinks. “I started off using Uber taxi drivers and one night I couldn’t get a taxi,” she says. “I was with a friend and we decided to try UberX and ever since then I use it a lot on my own. I don’t have an issue with safety – Uber’s tracking me through the app so they know where I am at every point in time and the driver is monitored through the app as well.

“I’ve never had a safety issue in terms of getting into a stranger’s car and I also think when you’re getting into a cab you’re getting into a stranger’s car anyway. I can’t see the difference.”

However, the presence of UberX and other ride share services continues to be a hugely contentious issue – the NSW government says it will pursue UberX drivers through the courts with threats of $110,000 fines – that is showing no signs of abating.

Just this morning, 12 UberX drivers were called in to face criminal charges in Victoria, with the case now set for February. And in the last week, US-based Uber was banned from use in Spain and Thailand.

So what does this mean for the average punter in need of a safe ride home? Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if you feel comfortable riding with a ride share operator, just as you’ve probably had to weigh up the pros and cons of similar services in the shared economy like AirBnb and eBay.

Car sharing
If you’re not sure about ride sharing but still want to make use of a car service with great green benefits, using an app to borrow a car minus the driver may be more your style. Companies like Car Next Door offer peer-to-peer car sharing services that allow lenders to rent out their seldom-used cars to locals for as little as one hour.

Car Next Door CEO Will Davies says the service is safe for lenders and borrowers. “We’ve got comprehensive insurance that covers the owner when they’re driving the vehicle as well as the borrower when they’re driving the vehicle,” he says. “There’s been multiple accidents happen, little bingles, and in every case insurance has paid that out.”

Car keys are located a lock box attached to or near each car. “We haven’t had any issues with the lock boxes being stolen or broken into,” says Davies. “We’ve had 8,000 bookings now and one car went missing for an hour. We have GPS tracking devices in the cars so we got that car back within an hour.”