Is Rideshare Safe as Hailing a Taxi?

In all situations, riders expose themselves to a certain amount of risk

Is this driver more dangerous than a taxi or another rideshare service? Both services come with an inherent amount of risk.
••• Photo by Stephan Geyer/Creative RF/Getty Images

Since the rise of rideshare applications, companies who utilize everyday motorists and their cars as a ground transportation alternative have found themselves in the crosshairs of the media, the public, and trade organizations. Some of these groups claim that utilizing a rideshare can put riders danger due to decreased regulation and allegedly relaxed background checks.

In one of the most publicized cases of 2016, a driver working with UberX allegedly picked up riders while in the midst of a shooting spree.

According to CNN, the driver was accused of shooting six people, while picking up and dropping off regular UberX passengers utilizing the ridesharing service. Opponents of the services were quick to claim that rideshare services may create a public hazard for riders in America and around the world.

Is ridesharing safe? Should travelers only use taxi services only? Before taking your next ride, make sure to understand the protections provided to the public by both services, both up front and behind the scenes.

Background Checks and Licensing

Before entering service, drivers for both rideshare services and taxis must complete a background check. However, the two competing services differ in how background checks are completed and what type of licensing is required to operate a vehicle.

In a study completed by the Cato Institute, background checks for taxi drivers were found to vary between major American cities.

In Chicago, a taxi driver must not be convicted of a "forcible felony" in five years prior to applying. In Philadelphia, a taxi driver must not be convicted of a felony in the five years preceding the application and must not have a DUI in three years. In many situations, fingerprinting is also required.

New York City may have some of the strictest restrictions for new drivers, requiring drivers to not only meet health standards, but also take a course on defensive driving and watch a video on sex trafficking. 

With rideshare services, new drivers drive their own car and must also complete a background check as well. According to the same the Cato Institute study, drivers are cleared by either Hirease or SterlingBackcheck, which screen drivers for felony convictions over the past seven years. In addition, drivers must also have their vehicles inspected prior to entering service.

Although the background check process does not include fingerprinting, the Cato Institute concluded: "It cannot be reasonably claimed that an UberX or Lyft driver who has been cleared through a thorough background check is more of a danger to passengers than a taxi driver in most of America’s most populous cities."

Incidents Involving Drivers

Although they are highly unlikely, incidents involving drivers can happen with both rideshare services and taxis. Unfortunately, the current crime tracking methods make it difficult to clearly determine if there is an increased danger with one service or another..

The Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association (TPMA) keeps a running list of incidents involving rideshare drivers on their issues website, titled: "Who's Driving You?

" Since their record keeping began in 2014, the trade organization attributes six deaths to rideshare automobile accidents, along with 22 alleged assaults by rideshare drivers.

Subsequently, alleged assaults have been documented in taxicabs across the country as well. In 2012, ABC affiliate WJLA-TV reports a spree of seven arrests in Washington, D.C. led the Taxicab Commission to issue a warning to female riders about aggressive drivers.

Although similar situations are attributed to taxis and their drivers, law enforcement authorities do not necessarily keep records of incidents that take place exclusively in rideshare vehicles or taxi cabs. According to a 2015 article by The Atlantic, several metropolitan police organizations do not track incidents in for-hire cars: taxi, ride-sharing, or otherwise.

Consumer Complaint and Resolution

In the case of customer service, taxis and rideshare services share common problems. These can include drivers taking travelers on a longer route in order to pad their fares, attempting to accept illegal unmetered rides, or passengers losing personal items to taxi drivers. While these situations do not provide evidence for or against ridesharing being unsafe, both taxi and rideshare services take different approaches to these common situations.

With taxis, lost items can be reported directly to the local taxi authority. When completing a report, be sure to note the taxi's medallion number, your drop off location, and any pertinent details relating to the taxi. In addition, local police departments may also operate a lost and found service, and should be contacted in the event of a lost item.

When using a rideshare service, the protocols change. Both Uber and Lyft have different means for filing a lost item complaint, requiring users to contact the company to facilitate a reunion with their items. Once again, it may be pertinent to contact the local police as well, as they may be able to help facilitate a reunion.

What if a driver is accused of purposefully taking a longer route or driving unsafe? Taxi riders can file a complaint with their local taxi authority for resolution, including a refund where warranted. Rideshare users can file a complaint with their preferred service, with resolutions varying. In some situations, the ridesharing service may elect to award a partial refund or credits towards future rides.

When riders use a taxi or rideshare service, they are subject to a certain amount of risk during their ground travels. By understanding the potential downfalls of each service, riders can make the best decision for their plans, no matter where they travel.