Forget about the ratio of Uber drivers and cars to the number of reported criminal incidents. Remote statistical probabilities on bad things that could happen to you are always comforting — until you become a statistic.
For the record, Uber operates in 300 cities in 58 countries, has more than one million drivers working on its platform, and is valued at more than $40 billion. We also have a massive global airline industry that can produce big numbers as well, but you hardly ever hear about Uber-style crimes among flight attendants and airline pilots. Or Greyhound bus drivers, or public transit workers, etc.
Why is that?
Uber, for all of its advanced techno-hip-luster, has some serious issues with women. We’ve all read about the rapes, the gropes, and the rude remarks that have become like media Muzak for Uber. But two recent incidents stand out for their coarseness and brazen incivility; something reminiscent of a Neanderthal tribal culture.
In one incident in Los Angeles, an enraged Uber driver curses a female passenger, pulls her out of the backseat, and throws her to the pavement. You must wonder, did he get his driver training from ISIS?
In a second incident, a depraved Philadelphia driver commits a lewd act that should always involve consent when not done alone. You wonder, was he rejected from the fetish porn set?
For all of Uber’s publicity blather about background checks and vetting drivers, the criminals keep getting through. The TNCs are magnets for a marginal subset of drivers who can’t find any other jobs, and want to work independently — as in, off the radar, freely moving about, plugging in and out. It’s the perfect refuge for losers, addicts, thieves, ex-cons, lunatics and sociopaths. [Smoke “medical” weed during the day, and score at night!]
Much of the blame goes to the gullible, bought-off politicians at all levels who parrot free market rhetoric while ignoring the fair rule of law as they carve out a niche for TNCs, and fail to mandate the oversights assigned to limos and taxicabs. These politicians should be insisting on FBI-quality background checks. And although you can’t directly blame Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, we do know that leaders and CEOs tend to set the tones at their companies. Kalanick (“Boober," "we're just a technology company") has repeatedly and publicly acted like a member of that “capital A team.”
I don’t have all the answers or solutions to improving Uber's behavior toward women beyond the standard ones of media embarrassment, boycotts, lawsuits, law enforcement and lobbying.
But I know how I personally handle the Uber challenge: When I told my wife about the TNC concept, she immediately concluded she would never risk it. On her recent business trip to Denver, I ordered up a limo service for her between the airport and hotel, $124 all-in, each way. It’s worth every penny for peace of mind. No way, would I want my wife or any female relative standing in an airport baggage claim at 10:30 p.m. tapping an Uber app, possibly summoning the creepo-loser who couldn’t get any other gig than working a cheap ride.
Such realities present a powerful, emotion-based advertising opportunity for limo operators that would dovetail with the National Limousine Association’s Ride Responsibly Campaign: Market to female business travelers and young women out on the town, appealing to their sense of security. Then market to your business traveler Dads who have daughters.
As all the limo associations fighting Uber will tell you, it’s difficult to get many politicians and regulators to take this seriously. But it’s much easier to insist on — and make consumer choices based on — gentleman standards all the way around.
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