One of the biggest challenges in Uber’s skyrocketing growth to a multi-billion dollar on-demand service is mitigating the risk associated with each ride. While the ‘gig economy’ in general maintains a gray area of liability when it comes to accidents and crime, Uber in particular has come under fire for its background check practices and the overall safety of rides in the U.S. — and around the world.
Today, the company introduced its new U.S. Safety Advisory Board, designed to give “critical recommendations and counsel” regarding the safety of passengers. The Board includes prominent names from law enforcement on the federal and local level, as well as Rob Chestnut, the General Council at Chegg, and Cindy Southworth, the Executive Vice President at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
Risk can come in many forms — from a driver with a criminal past to a driver continually practicing unsafe driving measures on the road — so it will be interesting to see how this new Board addresses the myriad of issues involved in mitigating these issues.
While the statistical likelihood of a risk or a crime in an Uber is hazy, it’s not difficult to find several accounts of Uber rides gone wrong: This past weekend, a Los Angeles Uber driver was arrested for fondling a USC student, and a Boston ex-Uber driver plead guilty to kidnapping and raping a passenger as he drove her home.
It’s also not clear exactly how the board will tackle the very real risk of drivers getting assaulted or worse by passengers. Former Taco Bell executive Benjamin Golden was arrested after punching his Uber driver in the head in Los Angeles. Drivers, whose livelihood often depends on the ratings system within every app, have very little recourse when a passenger abuses his or her power in the car. The safety issues go both ways.
It will be interesting to see whether anything from this new Board will result in more transparency about the exact safety of Uber rides, or a comprehensive report on risk in general.