Five Points at Night

Five Points

Allow me to introduce myself: My name is Paul Houston. I have been an Uber / Lyft driver for almost three years. With Uber I have picked up over 10,000 rides and have a 4.98 rating. For anybody who knows anything about the Uber drivers, you will know that that's an exceptionally high rating.

I would like to address a bill that is being introduced by Rep. Seth Rose, the Samantha L. Josephson Rideshare Safety Act.

This has been a tragic incident, and yes it is unfortunate that it happened. Regretfully, this happens more often than not in the transportation industry, that a customer tries to get into the wrong vehicle. Not only have I worked with rideshare services, but I also drove a taxi in the Columbia area for 28 years prior to Uber / Lyft.

You can ask a dispatcher with any cab service in Columbia how many times a driver has picked up the wrong person, and they would tell you more than once. With Uber and Lyft, I have on many occasions had an intoxicated student try to get in my van thinking I was their ride. The majority of times this has happened is when there is a group of students, such as at the fraternity lots by the football stadium and on their Saturday afternoon parties. (I do not work night shift so I don't experience the whole Five Points evening pick ups.)

I have also had students try to lie to me and tell me they were who I'm supposed to pick up just so they could get a ride out of there. In one incident last football season I had an intoxicated young lady come to my van and asked me if I was her Uber. When I told her that I was not, I was there to pick someone else up, she asked me could I just take her home anyway. Of course I did not because I knew that I was there for someone else. After telling her I couldn't, she staggered off and walked up to another car, got in, and the vehicle drove off. Do I know if it was her Uber? No, I do not.

I honestly don't feel this bill would work. There are already practices in use by Uber and Lyft which present illuminated signage in the vehicles. Also, if you say that a driver should have an illuminated sign in their window, this also opens the door for those who want to pose as drivers to order that signage off of Amazon and eBay. Anyone could purchase signs and pose as a driver under this bill.

In order for this bill to work and guarantee that a customer is getting into a rideshare vehicle, then it would have to be a sign that could not be acquired by any individual and only those who work for a rideshare company. It would also have to be one that is uniform throughout the state so that any officer could recognize it. Also, it would have to be one that is required to be returned to the company after the driver is deactivated or no longer works for the company. There a lot of drivers out here that no longer work for the company that still display the logo on their windshield.

I'm sure if you looked at the different rideshare vehicles on the road in your jurisdiction, you will find that there are a number of different windshield logos. There's no uniform logo on all vehicles. This would also have to be enforced on the generic rideshare companies like the one marketing itself in Columbia as “Spot-A-Ride.”

There also comes the enforcement of the bill. If you ask the Regulatory Commission if they can have an officer out in every township of South Carolina to enforce this law, then they would tell you that they don't have enough manpower to do so.

Again, this is an unfortunate incident which happened, but as a mother that I picked up to take to the airport that weekend pointed out to me, if you look at the video you will see that Ms. Josephson did not even get off her phone when she was getting in the vehicle to check and see if that was in fact her Uber driver. Nor did she even look at the vehicle to see if there was any signage. Unfortunately, not only did her friends let her go alone, but she did not follow the safety measures in place to prevent this. The app gives you all the information you need about the driver and vehicle that's coming to pick you up and even shows you that it's on the way. Even taxis don't give you that much information.

For the ones of you who do take a drink every now and then (even though you may not openly admit it), I'm sure there are days that you have woken up and wondered about the night before. I know I have myself. The problem we have here is that young adults who go out and get intoxicated are not aware of what they are doing. You can blame it on the rideshare companies all you want to, but I think in reality we need to sit down and figure out what are we going to do about the student population getting so intoxicated that they don't know what they're doing.

But this issue doesn't only concern students, it also concerns the general population who go out to areas which serve alcohol and they get intoxicated. There have been numerous times to where even adults had tried to get into the wrong vehicle when they're intoxicated. As we all know and when someone is intoxicated they're not in the right State of mind. look at the guy in Toronto who got into a police car instead of a taxi when he was intoxicated. To him the police car look just like a taxi. So for others looking for their Uber / Lyft ride they're not paying attention to the tag number, the signage or what the driver looks like. They just want a ride to where ever they're going to pass out.

Unfortunately this is a problem that will continue to plague us. Even with the passing of the bill it will continue to happen. Unfortunately as humans we will be cautious for a period and then when we feel comfortable again we’ll let our guard down.

Personally, I feel we need to focus on the heart of the issue and that is educating people on the dangers and consequences of their actions while being intoxicated. Maybe the answer could be in public announcements and awareness messages through the media. Rideshare companies have offered the tools for customers to use, but not all people are aware of them. They need to be educated.

Thank you for your time.

As a driver, father and grandfather I am concerned with my loved ones every day, as I’m sure you are.

Paul Houston

Columbia

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