June 4, 2014— -- Getting a ride wherever and whenever you need it thanks to apps like Uber sounds like a great idea -- and it is, except for the fact that millions of Americans are being driven around by strangers.
So how do you know your driver is legit?
First, know what you're getting. There are several levels of Uber drivers -- the cheapest, UberX, is made of everyday citizens with a car and a driver's license, while UberBlack, the company's original service, consists of certified chauffeurs who have been licensed by the city, and is slightly more expensive.
"UberX is peer to peer," Uber spokesman Lane Kasselman explained. "These are new entrepreneurs sort of creating their own business and using their own vehicle to provide rides."
UberX drivers are required to be at least 21 or 23 years old, depending on the city, have their own insurance and a mid-size or full-size 4-door vehicle in excellent condition, according to Uber’s website. Those guidelines are similar to policies at another ride-sharing service, Lyft, based in San Francisco.
While all Uber and Lyft drivers undergo background checks, recent incidents are likely to have riders on edge. Los Angeles police arrested an Uber driver on Tuesday for allegedly kidnapping a woman with the purpose of sexual assault, the same day another Uber driver in San Francisco was charged with punching a passenger.
To stay safe, Kasselman recommends riders take advantage of the app's "share your ETA" feature.
“As soon as your ride is confirmed and the driver is on his way, you can actually input your destination into the app and share that with anyone via text message,” Kasselman said.
Pals can even watch your journey on a map in real-time, using the Uber app.
After booking a ride, the app sends riders a photo of their driver, his license plate number and a description of the vehicle, so they know who to look for.
“There’s also real-time tracking,” Kasselman said. “It gives the rider a real sense of security.”
Riders should never get into an Uber car they didn't order.
That might have been the case with the Los Angeles woman who says she woke up at a hotel on Monday morning next to a man she didn't know -- an Uber driver, ABC7 reported. Police believe the woman was intoxicated and the car may have been solicited by a nightclub worker who was trying to find a way for her to get home.
Despite the bad press, Kasselman said he’s not worried about the future of Uber.
“The reality is that tens of thousands of rides are being completed every month on the platform,” he said. “That’s because the model works. People love it.”