What are Uber’s next steps toward security?

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch

Since the beginning of the year, it’s safe to assume that Uber Technologies has been running into many problems concerning their safety policies.

One thing for sure about this company is that they’re not trying to pick up another lawsuit like the two-class action lawsuits that settled about a month ago for $28.5 million for being accused of exaggerating the safety of its background checks.

If Uber doesn’t come up with an alternative action to prove to their passengers that their as safe and secure as they were before the shooting, the thriving company may not be as successful anymore possibly giving the opportunity to taxi companies to rise up again.

With the new generation’s reliance on smartphones, ride-sharing companies based out of mobile apps like Uber, have taken off. Although Uber is convenient some people are worried about their hiring process, especially with incidents like February’s Kalamazoo shooting.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Calif. Uber Technologies Inc. is the leading and most successful modern day taxi company. Founded in 2009 by Garrett Camp and CEO Travis Kalanick, they made it simple and affordable to catch a ride around town.

According to Uber, their technology enables them to "focus on rider and driver safety before, during and after every trip with a code of conduct, incident response teams, and anonymizing phone numbers to keep contact details confidential."

Sounds harmless, right? But the recent and unexpected tragic shooting in Kalamazoo, Mich. has raised many questions for skeptical riders.

Jason Brian Dalton, who'd been working as an Uber driver since January, opened fire at random the other week in Kalamazoo. In addition to the six people killed, a mother and a 14-year-old girl were injured. None of the shooting victims was an Uber fare.

Uber officials stressed they had no reason to believe Dalton posed a danger to anyone. The married father of two hadn't been in trouble with the law and passengers seemed to like him, giving him a 4.73, out of 5, rating. But for some, the incident is prompting a closer look at how Uber operates.

Uber drivers, or "partners," as the San Francisco-based company calls them, don't go through an extensive hiring process, with references and social media checks.

A prospective driver has to provide his or her name, address, driver's license, Social Security number, proof of car insurance and vehicle registration.

Uber outsources background checks to a company called Checkr, which looks at local, county and federal databases for signs of past trouble.  Checkr even sends someone to check files at county courthouses if those records aren't online. If no problems are detected then a person can get into the Uber system.

Tallahassee Uber driver, Jamal Fisher, has been working with the company since Fall 2015 and drives almost everyday of the week to earn extra cash since he’s a student at Florida State University.

He recalls the application process being simple and effortless, getting a response from Uber’s hiring team within a week.

“I heard about Uber through a friend who was using it quite frequently. I needed a job quick because my rent was due in a few weeks so I gave it a try and applied online. I wasn’t worried about the background check because I know nothing is on my record and in about a week or so, I was contacted by the local Uber telling me I was eligible to drive for them,” Fisher said.

Once the student driver caught wind of the Kalamazoo shooting, he believed customers were would stop taking Uber and his extra cash flow will quickly diminish.

“I make pretty good money every week, enough to pay some bills, but once I heard about the shooting in Michigan, I figured I would lose a lot of money because people would be scared to take Uber,” Fisher said.

Since the shooting, Fisher claims that money is steady but says it's still too early to tell.

The question that rises in every Uber passenger’s mind is, what is Uber going to do about this? It all seems to fall back to the Uber driver’s background checks. With Uber being a company that connects strangers, their background checks on their partners should be more extensive than what Checkr provides.

Frequent Uber passenger Janae Smith has recently been second guessing trips with Uber and wonders what they plan to do about the whole situation.

“I take Uber a lot since I have no car, so I depend on them highly. But now with all of this (shooting) going on I’m afraid of what will happen to me if I take Uber. I don’t think Uber is doing enough to figure out who their drivers really are,” Smith said.

Unlike Uber, their rival competition of taxi companies rely on fingerprint tests, making it possible to pull drivers' full criminal history. However, Uber doesn’t check drivers against the national sex-offender registry or employ fingerprint identification, which you would think would be the most plausible and safest way.

Discount Taxi driver Ramaad Johnson said he went through a rigorous screening process before being granted his driving position and he hopes that the shooting would push more customer his way.

“My company made sure they took the right steps in checking out my background history, and I thought they (Uber) were doing the same. But now with Uber having this mess on their hands, I hope I can gain more customers and bring in more money,” Johnson said.

Uber has publicly apologized to the victims and their families of the Kalamazoo shooting, but the company believes there is nothing wrong with their background protocols, as said by safety Uber board member Ed Davis.