Russell Hebets Oct. 6, 2015

A recent story out of Australia has hit social media, where a passenger in an Uber, a car share service, was attacked by the driver. As several other stories have been reported about crimes against passengers in Uber vehicles, one wonders, is it safer to take a cab or Uber and who is it safer for?

Cabs may not be any safer, as illustrated by the recent murder of a Denver cab driver named Darren Bloomquist.  This was the first time a crime against a cabbie has occurred here since 2004. While crimes against taxi drivers are infrequent in Denver, making it an appealing place for drivers, the incident has sparked discussion about safety for drivers

Uber is a ride share service where an individual signs up to use their car to transport others for a fee. Everything is done entirely through an app, so passengers do not have to worry about tipping or surprise charges. Overall the cost is less than taxis and the app is easy to use, making it a popular choice for public transportation.  It is so popular that it is taking business from taxi services in most cities. Lyft is a similar ride share service that is rising in the market as well. 

Unfortunately, Uber has had to deal with issues concerning some drivers assaulting passengers. But are reports of assaults by Uber drivers really any more frequent than incidents that involve taxi drivers? Sadly, there is little way to know. While some studies do focus on crime involving cabs, most cities do not collect this specific information, making it impossible to be sure. And just as Uber drivers have made news for assaults, so have cab drivers. 

The difference seems to be in the response. Taxi companies carry the liability insurance that covers incidents, drivers and the cars they drive. While both Uber and Lyft require million dollar policies of their drivers (much more than what cabs carry) and claim to be extensively insured, there have been issues with payouts. This is due to the fact that the driver is an independent contractor and the insurance company does not want to cover claims outside of the driver’s personal use. There is also an issue concerning background checks. The checks performed by cab companies are extensive and include fingerprinting, while the checks for Uber are not as deep, do not require fingerprinting and are reported to be quick and easy by most Uber drivers.  

As far as cab driver safety is concerned, one idea is asking taxi companies to follow the OSHA recommendation to keep cameras in all cars. Cameras have been known to significantly reduce crime against drivers by passengers and the cab driven by Bloomquist here in Denver did not have a camera. In fact, any accountability makes a difference as a study in Chicago recently revealed. Since Uber cars entered the cab market there, cab related crimes have dropped by 20%. This is attributed to the use of the Uber app, which identifies drivers and passengers. 

So Uber may have the edge in terms of fees and disclosure of all parties. But taxis provide more accountability and have had more experience handling incidents with drivers. Ultimately, the difference in services may not be the cost, but the price you pay if something terrible happens. As in all consumer ventures, caveat emptor.