Uber gaining popularity as ride service, part-time job

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By Katie Maloney

The Razorback Reporter

Students have shown a preference for Uber over taxicabs since 2011 when the app surfaced in college towns. Now many students are driving for Uber instead of working a part-time job.

“It has given me an option for stable income, but without ever taking away from class or study time,” UA senior Matt Howell said. “I initially joined Uber for extra cash and it has ended up becoming more of a sustaining job than I expected, it’s actually really great.”

Howell has been driving for Uber for about six months.

Several incidents nationwide, however, have been reported just this year in which the passenger, or group of passengers, attacked a driver, including the one this earlier month where a dashboard camera recorded a Taco Bell marketing executive hitting and cursing at his driver. A few days later a Florida driver was assaulted by two of his passengers. Four passengers shot a driver in Hartford, Connecticut, the next day after the Florida attack. The three attacks happened within five days of one another.

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In his time driving for the company, Howell said that he never has experienced anything dangerous or unsafe.

Over the last two weeks, three Uber drivers have been attacked by passengers, heightening criticisms by users and transportation companies.

“I think I have had over 100 drives since starting in May and have never had a time where I felt nervous or unsafe with a passenger,” he said.

One thing that makes him feel safe while driving for Uber is the company rating system, Howell said. After each ride he is able to rate passengers, and they are able to rate him based on their experience.

“Before I even go pick up a rider I can see what other drivers have rated them in the past” Howell said. “If it’s a really bad rating I have the option to turn it down.”

Uber does not remove passengers who have low ratings, but drivers may turn down the request. However in “surge” hours, when the demand for drivers is higher than normal, drivers must accept 90 percent of rides to receive his or her payout.

Though Howell loves his job driving he would never recommend females to drive for the company.

“Although I have met a few female Uber drivers who love their job and have done well, I personally would not recommend driving to a female,” Howell said. “I would never want to recommend a female in a situation where she is going to pick up drunk males especially in a college town where things could get out of hand.”

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Many incidents reported are females who have been attacked by male passengers. In January, a Virginia man was accused of trying to kiss his Uber driver. He then assaulted her when she resisted. Police said he stole her phone and left it in front of his house. In March, four passengers attacked a former Iranian TV reporter, who worked as an Uber driver from Van Nuys, California.

“I have a nightmare that every night I am running away from them,” Dehghani told a Los Angeles TV news reporter.

In August a female driver in Ontario, California, was robbed at gunpoint while waiting on passengers outside a restaurant. Though there has been an increased within the last year of assaults on drivers, Dehghani said Uber does not insure drivers. Officials at Uber did not respond to requests for interviews.

Fourteen percent of their drivers are female, according to the Uber website. That is slightly higher than the 12.7 percent of U.S taxi drivers who are women. Uber had plans to change that, with officials announcing in March that Uber would form partners with United Nations Women to hire 1 million female drivers by 2020.

“We look forward to a partnership where U.N. Women and Uber will drive more access to these types of opportunities around the world,” according to the online post that announced the partnership.

Within eight days, U.N. backed away because of pressure from unions. One in particular, International Transport Workers Federation, claimed in their March 12th statement, just two days after the partnership was made public, that “Women deserve better than a shallow public relations exercise,” and that Uber does not promote women’s economic empowerment, which the U.N. defines as access to fair wages and safety at work.

Most of the money that Howell makes comes from driving weekend nights between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., he said. Howell asserts that makes it harder women, who might feel uncomfortable working those hours.

Senior Julie Drew has used the ride-sharing app frequently as a passenger, but has no plans to drive for the company.

“I don’t think I would ever drive for Uber because of the safety issue,” Drew said. “You never know who is going to get into your car.”