Make your home page

Rideshare apps pushing safety features to ensure customer safety

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – What’s your comfort level when it comes to getting into a stranger’s car? Many people in Indianapolis do it every day through rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft.

According to Uber, tens of thousands of people use it a week in the Circle City. Both companies ensure it’s a reliable and more importantly safe way to travel. As part of Consumer Alert Day at 24-Hour News 8, we looked into both apps to learn what safety and security features are in place for customers and drivers.

On Friday night in Indianapolis in February, the traffic on Mass Ave is picking up as people venture out to enjoy dinner, drink and maybe even some dancing.

“We drove,” said Kent Robertson when asked how he got downtown.

“I walked,” answered James Butler.

“We took an Uber,” said Matthew Bystry who arrived at a bar with a friend.

His answer is one seen often throughout downtown, as passengers step in and out of the personal vehicle of a person they’ve likely just met.

“I use Uber quite a bit. It’s very convenient, reliable. I like it,” said James Butler.

“It’s just so convenient, I mean they’re usually there within five minutes and I feel like I trust the people that they choose to drive, too,” said Kristen Laratta, who also had just stepped out of an Uber.

The keyword she said was “trust.” Rideshare customers clearly have it. But others aren’t so sure about the idea of relying on the average Joe for a lift. We talked to several people off-camera who simply weren’t sure if using a rideshare app was for them.

But Uber driver Craig Mitchell promises it’s an experience worth trying.

“I’ve been doing this for right at one year. I’ve done over 3,000 rides,” he said.

The Indiana University grad used to work in sales and as a substitute teacher. But now his “9 to 5” is strictly behind the wheel of his car.

“Never thought that I would be doing this but this gave me a whole lot of freedom to be able to pick and choose hours and days that I wanted to work,” he said.

But he doesn’t exactly get to choose his customers. When someone fires up the app, it locates the nearest Uber. The screen shows a picture of the driver, the model of his or her car and the license plate number. But Mitchell suggests customers take one more step ensure they’re meeting the correct driver.

“When they get to the car you just make sure that they’re the right person by asking their name and they double check and make sure with my name that they’re getting in the right car,” said Mitchell.

Lyft follows the same method. In fact, the rideshare apps have several ways of ensuring their customers are safe.

Both require the driver to pass a criminal background check and their vehicle must pass an inspection. They also encourage customers to provide feedback on their drivers through a star system. Prospective passengers can check the driver’s rating before they get in the car. Mitchell is nearly perfect with 4.9 stars out of 5.

Both also offer a “Share my ETA” feature. Most customers we talked with had no idea it existed. The feature allows a customer to share their trip with a friend or family member, allowing another person to track their progress and time out their arrival from their phone.

But none of that might have been able to predict or stop an Uber driver accused of going on a killing spree in Kalamazoo Michigan last month.

One of his passengers was from Indianapolis. He told 24-Hour News 8’s Howard Monroe during an interview, “I said, ‘You’re not the shooter, are you?’ And he said, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said, “No, I’m just tired, I’ve been driving for seven hours.”

Uber representatives said driver Jason Dalton had no criminal record. Joe Sullivan, Chief Security Officer for Uber said in a statement:

We are horrified and heartbroken at the senseless violence in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims of this devastating crime and those recovering from injuries. We have reached out to the police to help with their investigation in any way that we can.”

Customers we talked to aren’t letting the incident deter them.

“Of course there are always going to be people out there who say ‘oh, we saw what happened in Michigan, there’s some crazy people out there driving Uber cars around.’ But there are going to be crazy people anywhere you go,” said Mikal

Customers don’t just stand behind rideshare programs, some businesses do, too.

Tow Yard Brewing Co. in downtown Indianapolis promotes Uber and Lyft to its patrons the same way it would encourage someone to grab a cab.

“When it comes down to it, the safety is the biggest concern. We don’t want anybody that’s impaired walking out the door, driving a vehicle home,” said Justin Whitaker, marketing director at Tow Yard Brewing Co.

We struggled to find people on Mass Ave who opposed using rideshares. But for the person who is apprehensive out there, Craig has his own safety advice.

“I would to say to them the same thing I tell my daughters. You know, until you are sure of it, you always go in a group,” he said.

Last year, Indiana passed a law regulating the ridesharing industry.

Companies like Uber and Lyft must do background checks and sex offender registry checks on potential drivers. Also, anyone convicted of a felony in the past three years can’t drive. Misdemeanors involving an OWI, hurting someone, or reckless driving would also ban them.