Do you ever feel unsafe while traveling to, from and around South Florida in a ride-share service?
Companies such as Uber and Lyft allow people to book a ride from a private driver via their smartphone application without using cash. Using GPS, the phones signal the closest driver available to pick up waiting passengers wherever they are.
One case led to North Miami Beach police arresting Uber driver Emilio Lazaro Victores, and charging him with sexually assaulting a woman who hailed a ride through Uber to meet up with friends in Biscayne Park March 16.
She had moved to the front seat when three other riders climbed into the vehicle as part of an Uber car pool and then she fell asleep, according to police. She told investigators that she woke up with Victores on top of her kissing her.
That same month, South Carolina college student Samantha Josephson, 21, was killed after police said she mistook a car for her Uber ride.
Columbia Police charged 25-year-old Nathaniel Rowland after locating a black Chevy Impala that Josephson was shown getting into on surveillance footage.
“There are many cases of imposter drivers out there who prey on people who appear to be looking for their Uber driver,’’ said John Boit, a spokesman for the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association. “We’ve seen over 100 such cases reported by the media, and have every reason to believe that’s a tiny fraction of the real number.”
For folks who are new to the services or frequent riders, here are some tips from the companies, police and travel consumer sites on what to do before, during and after the rides on how to stay safe when using the apps.
Miami Beach Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez suggests that passengers avoid being alone while waiting outside their ride to arrive. “Instead, wait indoors until the app shows your driver has arrived,’’ he said.
Before getting in
Users should make sure that the license plate, the driver’s photo and name match the information on your smartphone’s app. There have been reports of drivers using fake Uber and Lyft emblems and dashboard logos.
“Rides can only be requested through the app, so never get in a car with a driver who claims to be with Uber/Lyft and offers a ride,’’ Rodriguez said.
Also, ask the driver the name of the passenger (you) he or she is picking up before you enter the car. Lyft says that if the vehicle doesn’t match the description on the app when it pulls up, you use the “contact support” tab to report the incident.
Don’t ride shotgun
Solo riders should sit in the backseat of the car.
“Sitting in the back creates a slight safety barrier between the passenger and the driver,’’ said Boit. And “it gives you and your driver some personal space,’’ according to Uber. And when you’re back there, remember to buckle up. Rodriguez added that is also “ensures you can safely exit on either side of the vehicle to avoid moving traffic.”
In July, Brooklyn-based writer Tiffany Jackson shared a tip that she uses. After stepping inside a ride-share vehicle, she opens and closes the door twice to see if the child locks are on. The tip went viral; it’s been liked by more than 27,000 people. In fact, she said that the Lyft driver she mentioned in the Tweet was going to share the tip with his sister.
Me to @lyft Driver: For Tiffany? Him: Yup Me: Where are we going? Him: [redacted] Me: *open & closes car door twice* Him: *looks back at me* Were you...just checking for a child lock? Me: Yup. Him: Whoa. That’s smart. Gonna tell my sister to do that! Me: *Gives 5 stars*
Three or four is not a crowd. It may be a good idea to ride with a friend or use one of the ride companies’ car pool services because you would be among fellow passengers, that’s if you don’t mind sharing a car with other strangers. Also, these “Uber Pool” services and Lyft group pickups tend to be cheaper than riding solo.
Share your trip
When you’re en route to your spot, use the “share status” in the app to provide details of your driver and the car’s plate with one of your friends, relatives or whomever you may be meeting up with. “They can track your trip and see your ETA without downloading the apps,’’ added Rodriguez. Or you can also text your contact the route.
Passengers should also “make sure the driver is taking the most direct route (you can follow the route on your phone to double-check it),” said Boit. One social media user suggested taking a photo of the license plate and texting it to a family member of friend as a precaution.
Don’t reveal too many personal details
Some of us are chatty Kathys or Karls and enjoy talking with the driver to pass the time. But SmarterTravel.com suggests avoiding giving away too much personal information, “like how long you’re traveling for, where you live, or your phone number or any other contact information.”
Rate your driver
Uber and Lyft encourage customers to provide feedback on their trips. This is one way the companies can take action if there is inappropriate conduct among its drivers. “We have a strict zero-tolerance policy and any behavior threatening the safety or comfort of a community member is not tolerated,’’ a Lyft spokeswoman said.