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Ridesharing: horrors and happiness

By Posted : 11/23/2015

Are you a magnet for monsters on public transport? Are you always seated next to a guy who spreads his legs and elbows into your seat on the subway? Does the person with appalling personal hygiene habits or horrific halitosis invariably make a beeline for the seat next to yours on the bus? Unfortunately, you can't get insurance protection for incidents like these.

Ubiquitous Uber

If you've had your fill of unfortunate public transportation experiences, you probably love the space and relative privacy you get from rideshare services, such as Lyft or Uber, that have recently become ubiquitous. These compete with licensed taxi cabs, but are often easier to order, using a simple smartphone app, and can be more affordable.

You may be so sold on ridesharing that you are exploring how to become an Uber or Lyft driver. For now, until driverless cars become commonplace, drivers and passengers still have to share a confined space -- and this can sometimes be every bit as intrusive, obnoxious and malodorous as the environment dreaded on public transport.

Wrong routes are triggers for trouble

One seemingly common cause of friction between ridesharing drivers and passengers is the route taken. Last year, Roberto Chicas, 35, ordered an Uber car when he finished his bar-tending shift in the early hours one morning.

He wanted to go from San Francisco's South of Market area to his home in the Lower Haight. It's only a couple miles or so, and he was used to commuting over city streets, so he objected when driver Patrick Karajah took the highway.

Rideshare promotion

Chicas says Karajah didn't respond well to the criticism, and alleged that the driver attacked him with a claw hammer, putting at risk his sight in one eye, according to the SFGATE website. Karajah was charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily injury, pleaded not guilty and was released on bail pending a trial.

At one point, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Nick Mead may have worried he faced a similar fate. He was traveling in London, England, a city he knows well because he's British-born and lived much of his life there. An Uber driver was taking him from A to B, but kept ignoring signposts to B, instead taking him miles out of his way. Mead told Insurance.com,

"It was never about the money. It was about getting there swiftly because I had a meeting to go to. So I said to him, actually in a very, very nice way, 'Excuse me, but we can't keep going this way.' The guy immediately pulled over and started ranting at me, telling me he wasn't my servant, and that I should get out of his car. I said, 'fine': I'm not of an age now when it's worth getting into a fight, and I just wanted to get on with my day. But he turned and spat on my leather jacket. I got out of the car and was still in shock, looking down at his spit on my coat, when he got out too, and I thought he was going to come at me. But he just closed the vehicle's door, and drove off. I complained, and Uber refunded my fare and promised to have words with the driver."

Drivers' dreads

There are, of course, at least two people in the vehicle during a rideshare trip, and a quick online trawl of drivers' forums reveals they have as many gripes as their passengers. Decades ago, this writer worked as a licensed cab driver during college vacations, and today's complaints are eerily familiar to him: the fear of a drunk barfing on the back seat, the route disputes, the no-show passengers, the impossible-to-find pick-up addresses. Nothing much has changed, either over the years or with the new service model, although today's ridesharing insurance is still evolving.

However, a wholly new concern is auto insurance. Because the ridesharing concept was new and different, it was possible for gaps to arise in drivers' coverage, though never when a passenger was in the car. New laws in some states and new policies from certain insurers and service providers are beginning to fill those gaps.

Rideshare regrets: too few to mention

You might imagine that Nick Mead's experience in London put him off ridesharing for life. Not so. "I think Uber is great," he says. "There are just a few bad stories, but generally they've been amazing." He's taken Uber cars in many states, including California, Florida, New York and Virginia, as well as in Paris, France and London, and he talks about the consistently excellent service he's received.

He is especially enthusiastic about the young women who've driven him in Los Angeles, and says a number have told him they now fulfill a role traditionally carried out by barkeeps: to listen sympathetically to "my husband/wife/partner doesn't understand me" tales. That's cheap therapy.

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