Despite statewide controversy surrounding ride-sharing, Uber still popular in Ann Arbor

Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 4:41pm

Though Uber and other ridesharing services are facing a nationwide call for increased regulation on drivers — in Michigan specifically, following a mass shooting carried out by an Uber driver in Kalamazoo who killed six — University of Michigan students continue to use on Uber as a reliable way to get around campus.

LSA junior Nadine Jawad said she takes safety precautions when using Uber, such as carrying pepper spray and a charged phone, but remains loyal to the service even after the mass shootings.

“My parents strongly discourage my use of Uber so often due to the recent shooting in Kalamazoo, so I can’t help but hold a tinge of fear subconsciously,” she said. “However, of the 50 times I’ve used an Uber I’ve never had an issue, (but) you never know what to expect. Personally I’m not scared so long as it’s light outside and I have a phone and my pepper spray.”

In response to the Kalamazoo incidents, as well as others that have occured in the state and beyond, critics of Uber and Lyft have pointed to issues of safety originating with companies’ verification process.  Uber and Lyft drivers go through a significantly shorter interview process than rival taxi companies and do not have to submit government background checks or pay fees to obtain city licenses, Newsweek reported. Drivers found to be violent are immediately suspended, according to Uber’s policy, but if a customer lodges a complaint against something subjective, like bad driving, the driver may not be immediately punished. Jeremy Dalton, the shooter responsible for six deaths in Kalamazoo, had a “good” rating of 4.73 and favorable feedback from riders, Time found.   

In an interview, Fermaish Ali, an Uber driver in Detroit, admitted the company’s hiring practices could use tweaking.

“Being scared is justified,” he said. “You are given a service in which even the employer does not know the driver. Even when they have done background research on the drivers, there is no real meetings or interview after being hired. Everything from there on is online or on the phone.”

LSA freshman Stephanie Harris agreed with Jawad, saying she feels Uber is more dependable than other options for getting home at night, such as walking or taking the bus.

“I’ve always thought the concept of Uber is sketchy, but walking home from parties late at night is sketchier,” she said. “Living on North Campus doesn’t really give me much of a choice since the buses are so unreliable.”

University Police spokeswoman Diane Brown said she woudn't dissuade students from using ride-sharing services, but warned them to only request rides through Uber and Lyft’s official apps and to exercise caution.

“People need to take responsibility for their safety,” Brown said. “Just like we suggest with walking, going with another person or friend is advisable.”

Both Uber and Lyft have been called into question in Ann Arbor before. City Council considered a measure in 2014 requiring Uber drivers to comply with the Michigan Limousine Transportation Act and purchase commercial vehicle licenses. The proposal did not garner enough votes to pass a first reading, as the five councilmembers voting against the bill cited unreasonable cost burdens on drivers.

Councilmember Zachary Ackerman (D–Ward 3), who did not have a seat on City Council in 2014, but noted that city leaders still cannot pass effective, wide-reaching legislation.  

“Should there be increased regulation to ensure safety of the rider? Of course,” he said. “Locally, we need direction from the state. Until then these services will operate in a gray area, which doesn’t work to anyone’s advantage.”

Ackerman also critiqued heavy scrutiny of ridesharing, citing it as an important mode of transportation for present and future students.

“I reject the premise that Uber or ridesharing can be blamed for this atrocity,” he said. “Jason Dalton was also an insurance broker. Should people be worried when they go in to buy insurance? No. This is a gun access issue. This is a mental health issue.”