Cover image: Ady Neshoda | @adyneshoda
MadeinTYO said it best. Uber every-fuckin-where.
Growing up, we were told not to get in cars with strangers. Stranger Danger was a pandemic and any interaction with an unknown adult was a big no-no. Yet, with the evolution of shared economies and the convenience of ride-sharing services, apps like Uber, Ola, and Taxify are challenging what we believe.
The introduction of Uber to Australia in 2012, the year of the apocalypse, meant that the world as we knew it had come to an end as predicted by the Mayans. We had gone from “don’t talk to strangers on the internet” and “don’t get into a stranger’s cars” to summoning them from our smartphones to drive us around. It is strange that we have compromised our values and become so trusting of this fairly new service, which is now one of the top ride-sharing companies worldwide.
And then there’s Uber Pool, the most affordable Uber ride, which matches your ride with other people heading in the same direction. That’s sharing a trip with not only your driver, but other random people. This is beyond terrifying for a number of reasons, not just because of the lessons that were ingrained in us as children, but it raises many anxiety-inducing concerns. Beyond the safety concerns of marginalised people in our society, there are the day-to-day worries of interacting with strangers. What do you say? Do you make conversation with every single person in the car? What is expected of you? Will everyone be rating you?
Although the ride-sharing service is reasonably safe, an array of Uber horror stories exist—there are even several subreddits dedicated to the topic. And while most talk about their driver speeding or taking a longer route to scam them for their money, there are still ample stories that are bound to give you nightmares or fear for your everyday safety.
Many of us have encountered the seedy, middle-aged driver who will find us on Facebook after a trip to say “you are very beautiful!” shortly followed by an Instagram follow and comment on your most recent photo. And of course, this man has a profile picture which is an extreme close-up. While this encounter is uncomfortable to say the least, there are arguably far worse and far more terrifying stories you hear about. For example, the woman in Brisbane who was held by her Uber driver for more than an hour against her will, for what should have been a ten minute trip.
Some could argue that these issues are inherent with any service that places you alone with a random person, but it also raises the question: should we be more hesitant to get in cars with strangers? Clearly, Stranger Danger still is a stark threat to many of us, especially for women and marginalised groups.
Shebah is Australia’s first women-only ride-sharing service that successfully addresses the issue of stranger danger with a focus on safety. They are a “ride-share for the vulnerable” that uses “an inclusive definition of ‘women” meaning [they] welcome trans, genderqueer women and non-binary people”. However, the app has sparked controversy—-not only from fragile men that believe they are now victims of sexism, but it raises concerns about how the driver can discern the gender identity of customers.
While I am still quite apprehensive about using services such as Uber Pool, and realistically cannot afford anything except for LimeBike, it is undeniable that these services have changed the way I, and many people travel. Yet, I am too passionate about increasing my surprisingly low 4.85 Uber rating to stop using the service entirely.