Regulations for taxis and taxi drivers are mandated to help keep the public safe. (Courtesy photo)

When passenger safety becomes a casualty of innovation

I’ll never forget my first wasted girl.

http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/i-drive-sf/

I’ll never forget my first wasted girl. The young woman was probably 19 – 20 tops. So intoxicated, she couldn’t remember where she lived. Somewhere in the Inner Sunset. That’s all she was able to tell me.

I had just started driving for Lyft and the person who ordered the ride didn’t know her. There was a house party, she must have taken something and, yada yada yada, she was my responsibility now.

I was more than a little freaked out. Especially when her first garbled attempt at an address proved futile and she climbed into the front seat of my Jetta.

At this point, she was bawling nonstop. I was on the verge of hysterics myself. Besides the frantic attempt to get her home, I’d already ended the trip through the app, so it was a free ride.

Forty-five minutes later, to my great relief, she finally recognized her building. I managed to help her inside, with only a few more crying jags between the car and her door.

A few months after that, while driving for Uber, a young woman jumped into my car at Market and Eighth Streets and instantly passed out. When the actual person who ordered the ride called me, I had a momentary panic attack. But I managed to figure out where the woman in my backseat lived and get her home.

Over the years, I’ve found myself in similar situations on numerous occasions. And while I had the routine down to a science by the time I started driving a taxi, the immediate fear that grips you at the onset of these incidents never really goes away.

Most people don’t seem to realize just how vulnerable you are on the streets at night, whether you’ve been partying, or driving for hire.

In last week’s column, I wrote about how easy it is for predators to use the Uber/Lyft business models for nefarious purposes. This prompted several readers to contact me and point out that the same thing could happen in a taxi.

It never ceases to amaze me how far Uber/Lyft boosters will go to protect their precious luxury.

While it’s true that criminals will always find a way to fulfill their dastardly deeds, a passenger would have to be absolutely wasted to mistake a random car for a taxi.

San Francisco taxis have color schemes for a reason. Phone numbers are prominently displayed on the vehicles for a reason. Top lights are mounted on the roofs for a reason. Cameras are installed for a reason. Licensing, FBI background checks, proper training, permits and insurance are required for a reason. All of these regulations – and more – are mandated by The City to keep the public safe.

Last Thursday, the New York Times published an article on the proliferation of fake Ubers and Lyfts preying on women leaving clubs and bars, as well as tips for how to avoid them.

According to the article, in addition to last month’s murder of a 21-year-old University South Carolina student who mistook a car for her Uber ride, there have been dozens of cases reported over the past few years. And with all this recent attention focused on their IPOs, even more stories are coming to light.

This week, NBC4 and KTLA in Los Angeles reported on a lawsuit filed by three women who’d been sexually assaulted by men pretending to be Uber drivers. Their case alleges that Uber isn’t doing enough to implement safeguards to protect riders from these imposter ride-hail drivers.

Uber’s response is to try and educate users on how to properly identify their assigned vehicles. This sounds like the same kind of victim shaming you see in the comments sections for these stories.

Uber and Lyft seem to have created a false sense of security. You can’t really expect people who’ve been drinking and/or doing drugs at night to be able to read a license plate or make sure that the thumbnail in their phone matches the dude behind the wheel.

Slowly, people are beginning to realize that the only innovation these companies can brag about anymore is their ability to skirt century-old regulations in order to achieve their own sinister designs. But if Uber and Lyft want to become the largest taxi companies in the world, shouldn’t they be required to act like taxi companies?

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. He is a guest opinion columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City.Write to him at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit www.idrivesf.com

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