On any given weekend around midnight, the roads of downtown Athens are swarming with taxi cabs transporting patrons back home.
And as of Aug. 28, the ridesharing service Uber was added to the list of transportation options for students. But recently, there have been increased concerns for safety using Uber as stories of costly accidents, sexual assault and kidnappings have circulated.
Sgt. Laura Lusk of the Athens-Clarke County Police Department said that she cannot recall any incidents in Athens involving Uber thus far, but the stories reveal the dangers to the idea of ridesharing.
Lusk said though Uber is not a registered taxi service in Athens, the company is not technically violating the law.
“Right now there’s no ordinance or state law requiring anything for Uber,” Lusk said. “It is in the county attorney and city manager’s office for review.”
Lusk referenced House Bill 907, introduced in the 2013-2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly, which attempted to enforce regulation on ridesharing services by requiring them to conduct background checks and purchase insurance.
The bill did not pass the session, though a revisiting to the idea has brought about House Bill 224, which calls for the “comprehensive regulation of transportation referral services, transportation referral service providers, ride share network services, and ride share drivers.”
While legislators debate implementing regulations on ridesharing services like Uber, the issues regarding Uber’s safety still linger.
Garrett Herrin, a driver for Uber, said the company recently instated a $10 million dollar insurance policy for each customer. Most insurance policies prohibit policy holders from working as a transportation-network company driver, leaving many Uber drivers in violation of their policies.
According to Uber’s blog, all drivers must go through a rigorous background check. Drivers are screened against seven years of courthouse records as well as a lifetime motor vehicle records. No drivers can have DUI or drug-related violations, violent crimes, sexual offenses or gun-related violations.
Herrin, a senior political science major from Brunswick, said that he put in his information, including birth date and Social Security number, on Hirease, a third-party background check service. However, the use of Hirease has fallen under scrutiny since it uses only publicly available information.
In comparison, every taxi driver in Athens must go through the Athens-Clarke County police department, where a full background check is conducted.
One difference between the taxis and Uber is the requirement of fingerprints and drug testing. While Uber checks for DUI and drug offenses in its background checks, Herrin said he did not go through a drug test or vision test, which is required for taxi drivers in Athens.
But Herrin said he had not heard of any incidents in Athens involving Uber and stands by the notion that Uber is a safe service.
“I’d like to know what the numbers are for how many times things like [the reported incidents] happen with regular taxi services,” he said.
Faisal Gedi, a freshman computer science major from Stone Mountain, said he has not ridden in an Uber vehicle in Athens, as well as in Washington D.C. and Atlanta.
“I almost always felt safe, except for one time when I accidentally got in the wrong Uber car. It was weird because it wasn’t my driver, and I was like ‘This could end badly,’” he said. “You hear it on the news, but, to me, Uber is easier to get than a regular taxi sometimes.”
But Keri Porter, a freshman international business and marketing major from Cumming, said she has had mixed experiences using Uber in Athens and Atlanta.
“In Atlanta it was fine, but in Athens, there’s been some weird experiences,” she said.
Porter recalled one time when the driver refused to stop at their destination, and Porter and her friends had to jump out of the moving vehicle.
Neither Gedi nor Porter were aware of Uber’s lenient background checks. After finding out, Gedi said his opinion changed.
“I thought they had tough screening,” he said. “But since they don’t, that does make it kind of scary.”
Gedi said choosing to ride in an Uber car now would come down to convenience and “desperate” he is.