Caroline Gray’s first Uber ride was a relatively normal one.
Gray and her driver struck up a casual conversation about Orlando and the weather. Right before Gray left the car, her middle-aged driver tried to give her his number. He wanted to go out with her.
“I was nervous. I didn’t want to say no because I didn’t know how he would react,” said Gray, a sophomore health sciences major. “I darted out of the car.”
Grays story isn't unusual. Uber’s growing popularity — especially on college campuses — comes with growing controversy.
Critics of Uber have raised concerns regarding Uber’s background checks.
A Daily Beast columnist in New York City wrote about the time her Uber driver showed a picture of her earlier in the day in her workout clothes. A passenger in Chicago filed a lawsuit against Uber after her driver allegedly fondled her against her will. And a passenger in Washington, D.C. claimed her driver raped her, although prosecutors later dropped the charges.
On Feb. 20, an Uber driver killed six people and gravely injured two others during a seven-hour time period during which he still transported passengers. Jason Dalton, who was arrested and admitted to the aforementioned crimes, passed Ubers background check.
In 2013, a San Francisco Uber driver physically assaulted a rider. Further background checks revealed that the driver had been arrested twice for selling drugs. The driver’s criminal history was public record, yet went undetected by Uber’s background check.
In response, Uber released a statement announcing a new Safe Rides Fee for Uber riders.
“This fee supports the increased costs associated with our continued efforts to ensure the safest platform for Uber riders and drivers,” according to the statement.
Harassment isn’t the only safety issue Uber riders are concerned about. Gray recalled another time when she noticed her Uber driver had a police scanner on his dashboard that would click whenever a police officer was nearby.
“That’s when I realized that he was speeding the whole drive,” Gray said.
At the end of the drive, Uber riders can rate their drivers out of five stars. Uber drivers depend on good ratings in order to attract more customers. If an Uber rider felt uncomfortable or unsafe during the ride, they can leave a comment to keep other riders away.
“The drivers are usually really nice to you because they want to get a good rating,” said Melonie Miles, a senior creative writing major. “They’ll ask you to rate them right before you leave. Once I had an Uber driver who also worked at Disney World, offer me some Disney perks just to get a good rating.”
Gray said both of her drivers had four-star ratings. Defenders of Uber tout its efficiency and low prices.
Kyle Foley, Field Director of Turning Point USA, helps organize on-campus petitions against Uber regulation.
“We like the idea of Uber because it lets the customers dictate the prices,” Foley said. “It’s a better alternative to taxi cabs, which cost so much because of all the licensing required.”
Officer Peter Stephens of the UCF Police Department stressed the importance of being alert. While Uber is cheap and convenient, Stephens said, safety is not a guarantee.
“Regardless if it’s Uber or a traditional taxi cab, you have to be aware of your surroundings,” Stephens said. “There are creepy people out there doing creepy things regardless of the company they work for. If you have an uneasy feeling about the driver, don’t use the service.”
Uber did not return the Central Florida Future’s request for comment.
Students have the option of using the Safe Ride program which provides students with free cab rides home. For more information, go to asf.sdes.ucf.edu.
Nicole Garcia is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.