Uber and Lyft often are cheaper and more convenient than taxis. But in many cities and towns, these app-based services, which let you use your smartphone to request rides from drivers in their own vehicles, operate outside the heavily regulated environment that tries to ensure taxi rides are safe and fairly priced.
Here’s how I deal with the biggest concerns about Uber and Lyft…
• Personal safety. In the past few years, there have been dozens of alleged assaults on passengers by Uber and Lyft drivers. And in February, an Uber driver was accused of going on a shooting rampage at three locations in Kalamazoo, Michigan, killing six people and wounding two more. Although both car services require criminal background checks, drivers are not governed by the same rigorous licensing requirements, such as fingerprinting, that apply to traditional taxi operators in many areas.
I only use drivers with stellar reviews from passengers. Uber and Lyft allow passengers to anonymously rate their experiences with drivers from one to five stars. I want my driver to have a record of at least several dozen reviews, with an average rating of at least 4.7 stars. For drivers who fall below that standard, penalties or even dismissal from the companies are possible.
• Distracted drivers. Uber and Lyft drivers tend to constantly check their phones during rides—it’s a hazard of app-based ride services.
Studies show that about one-third of app-based car-service accidents involve phone usage. I reduce the chance of accidents by politely but firmly telling the driver not to use his/her phone while the vehicle is moving.
• Surge-pricing. Uber and Lyft boost prices, often to levels higher than what a taxi costs, whenever demand for rides in particular areas or at certain times is much greater than available drivers. I wait a few minutes and then request a ride again. The apps will let you know when surge-pricing is in effect. A recent study found that 40% of surges at Uber lasted just five minutes, while another 20% of surges lasted 10 minutes.