Just under a year after Uber launched in Connecticut, the ride-sharing service is coming under increased scrutiny across the state.
Founded in San Francisco in 2009, Uber connects riders with drivers for hire through a mobile application. Customers request rides via their smartphone app and then track their reserved vehicle’s location. With a mission statement of “evolving the way the world moves,” the company seeks to connect costumers to drivers more quickly and efficiently than the current taxi system.
Uber’s business model, however, has run into criticism from both taxi companies and consumers, who believe the lack of regulation imposed on Uber is detrimental to rider safety. On Feb. 4, Nicole Benincasa, who works as a policy and regulatory associate for Uber in New York City, led an informational hearing in front of the state’s transportation committee in which she reviewed Uber’s main policies and answered questions.
Committee members are now waiting for a report from the state’s Department of Transportation, which will analyze Uber’s operations and decide whether or not they should be more strictly regulated.
“We are seeing that there is [taxi] space being filled by other services such as Uber,” Director of Transportation, Traffic and Parking Doug Hausladen ’04 said in a statement. “We are looking forward to the review by the Connecticut Department of Transportation of these new services.”
The report, which is slated to be finished at the end of this month, will analyze exactly how Uber operates in the state and elsewhere and aims to help state officials reach a conclusion as to whether or not the company should be more strictly regulated.
At the informational hearing earlier this month, Benincasa said the company appreciates the committee’s interest in evaluating Uber’s network, adding that Connecticut now has the opportunity to put into place a new regulatory framework that will work for these new technologies.
Lawmakers are specifically looking to decide what insurance requirements, vehicle inspections and driver background checks regulations should apply to Uber.
Uber users now download the app onto their phone, where they can then track cars in their vicinity. The company itself does not own any cars and does not directly employ any drivers. Drivers own their cars and decide their hours. Those who wish to become Uber drivers first sign up on their website. Then, the drivers must go through a background check dating back seven years, and their cars must be legally insured, registered and no older than 10 years. Additionally, Uber has a million-dollar liability policy, which starts as soon as a driver accepts a trip, Benincasa added.
“Uber’s top priority is connecting riders to the safest rides on the road,” Benincasa said. “For riders, that means [knowing] that every driver on the Uber platform is thoroughly screened, and knowing that every ride is insured.”
Regular taxi companies, however, are dissatisfied with the way Uber has disrupted the transportation system.
“It is affecting my business and all the other taxi businesses in the country,” owner of Greenwich Taxi Anthony Boskello said. “The state has regulations and we have to follow those regulations. Uber came into the state and they don’t have to follow the regulations.”
He added that everyone should be on an equal playing field and equally regulated. Uber has safety issues including questionable insurance, no fingerprinting, and limited background and car checks, Boskello said.
Despite the apparent lack of safety, students are increasingly gravitating toward using Uber, leaving taxis in search of riders.
Of seven students interviewed, five said they have used Uber several times. All seven said they do not usually take taxis anywhere, with the exception being to travel to Union Station.
“I prefer Uber because it’s far more convenient and easier than getting a taxi,” David Toppelberg ’18 said. “The cars are nicer, and the drivers are usually better.”
No students interviewed said they have felt unsafe in an Uber.
Uber currently operates in 54 countries globally.