A new program that allows parents to book Uber rides for their teenagers has some drivers pumping the brakes.
Uber began testing teen accounts last month in Seattle, Phoenix and Columbus. For an extra $2 in booking fees, parents can set up rides for kids between the ages of 13 and 17 and get notifications about the trip’s progress. Drivers are not notified when they are transporting a teenager and are paid the same amount as they would for driving an adult.
That’s a big problem for Alison Rapp, a mother of two living in Poulsbo, Wash., who started driving for Uber when chronic illness made it too difficult for her to work a regular full-time job.
“I think that they are misleading the parents enormously,” she said. “The parents are paying extra and in my mind, as a parent, if I am paying extra I’m expecting extra attention. There’s no possible way that the driver can be giving extra attention because the driver has no clue that they’re driving an unaccompanied minor.”
Uber says teen rides will only be booked with experienced drivers who have received consistently positive reviews. The extra $2 the company is charging goes toward additional features that Uber’s engineering team has developed for the teen rider program, according to Uber spokesperson Nathan Hambley.
Those features include notifications that are sent to parents during the teen’s ride. If the destination changes, the teen gets out early, or the ETA is altered, Uber pings the parents.
Drivers who don’t feel comfortable transporting teens have the option to opt out of the program, though some drivers reported difficulty going through that process.
“The drivers who are going to do this program should have to go through a special training, how to work with minors,” said Lisa DeLia, an Uber driver and computer science student at Renton Technical College. “The same thing that school employees and school bus drivers have to go through.”
All Uber drivers undergo criminal history and background checks but drivers transporting teens don’t receive additional screening or training.
“Safety at Uber does not end with screenings,” said Hambley. “We invest in technology that focuses on safety in ways that were not possible before, such as tracking trips with GPS, giving riders information to confirm their driver, and easy two-way feedback within the app.”
Craig Gibson, a part-time Uber driver in Columbus, opted out of the program as soon as he learned his city was part of the pilot. To him, it just wasn’t worth the risk.
“I certainly don’t have anything against teenagers,” he said. “I have one, so nothing like that, but there is an increased liability when you’re driving somebody’s child around and the potential that could go bad there. If a child says you’ve done something inappropriate, the repercussions are almost immediately more serious and the shockwave quicker, so there is an increased risk there and Uber’s done absolutely nothing to lessen that.”
Gibson said he might have considered participating in the pilot if drivers were compensated for the added responsibility of transporting a minor.
“There is no incentive,” he said. “It’s just a policy change and there’s nothing in it for the drivers at all for the increased liability and risk.”
Uber says that any risk drivers may incur from transporting teens is covered by the company’s existing insurance policy.
“Uber rides are insured at least $1M in the U.S., and the coverage is the same for rides on teen accounts,” Hambley said.
Rapp, for her part, thinks a ride-hailing service for teens could be a great resource for busy parents like herself. She’s just frustrated by the execution.
“I wish they’d just do it right,” she said, adding, “Doing it right would be a more thorough background check of the drivers that would be [transporting teens]. It would be setting us up with a dash cam that records the backseat and audio and allows for live-streaming so that either Uber or the parents … can access it at any given moment to see what’s going on. That’s going to protect the driver and that’s going to protect the passenger. It’s going to protect everybody.”