Uber, safety, and the question of global expansion

The popular ride-sharing service Uber seems to be a transnational success. By downloading an app to their phones, Uber users can make their way around busy cities without relying on public transportation.

Open to nearly everyone, it is easy to be both a driver and passenger.

However, Uber’s openness can pose problems for the app and its users.

In India, women have reported being sexually assaulted by drivers after arranging transport. While Uber has attempted to frame these incidents as isolated cases, others claim that the company has a woman problem.

For its part, Uber has recently developed tools within the app to help passengers who feel threatened. The ‘panic button’ will allow a user to quickly notify local police of a potentially unsafe situation. While many applaud the development, others say it highlights what they consider Uber’s laissez-faire vetting process for drivers.

The company does require background checks for potential drivers, but the thoroughness of those checks can vary from country to country. In India, ‘clean records are easy to forge’ making the vetting process even more difficult.

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View from inside an Uber taxi. (Photo by Abhijit Bhaduri. Flickr Creative Commons.)

Uber’s development of the panic button actually stems from India’s threats to ban the app from the country. The threat was based on not only the threat of sexual assaults but also from the unease from licensed cab drivers with Uber. From Detroit to Mexico cabbies have expressed discontent with Uber as they feel the app is threatening their jobs.

While Uber seeks to appease India, other countries have taken a harder stance. As of now, Brazil, Italy, and Germany have banned Uber from operating due to what they feel are lax requirements it demands from its drivers.

The Philippines, on the other hand, has welcomed Uber with open arms. The country has legalized Uber operations throughout the nation, albeit with yet-to-be-defined regulations.

Uber also faces contestation from its drivers. The company believes its drivers are contractors and not employees. Such a stance enables Uber to avoid particular taxing regulations and unemployment insurance payments when drivers are unable to find fares.

What’s next for Uber? The company continues to rake in large profits on the wheels of its crowd-sourced labor force. However, perhaps such easy money will be harder to come by in the future. Uber recently partnered with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in an effort to develop driverless cars.

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