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Three years ago, I decided to experiment with driving for Uber just so I could better understand the UberX platform. It was brand-new to Dallas-Fort Worth and I had yet to even be an UberX customer having only utilized the relatively new Uber car service in cities like New York and San Francisco.
One of the more interesting pieces I wrote during that period was titled Sex Love and Uber. I still receive emails about the “Uber of Shame”. Some are drivers relaying their own stories. But others are from women chastising me for using that terminology. I do regret not exploring the topic further – for many reasons.
I gave dozens of those types of rides in my year and half of intermittently driving for the service. But as we shared yesterday, in the wake of the continuing news streaming out of Uber corporate headquarters about sexual misconduct, I regret ever using that phrase. The reality is that the only one feeling shame right now should be Uber’s leadership.
The latest news is that Travis Kalanick offered “sex rules” for a company party in 2013. Yes, “sex rules”. One of those rules was to stay away from anyone in your chain of command at the company. He then lamented that restricted him from everyone at the gathering. Or as he put it, #FML – are you kidding me?! (For those who don’t know, “FML” is a colorful term describing discontent with your situation.)
But none of this surprises me. I never wrote a part two to my Sex Love and Uber – mainly because I didn’t want this to turn into some kind of salacious Penthouse Forum. “Dear Jetsetter’s Homestead, I never thought it would happen to me but….”
Nonetheless, I compiled a laundry list of the sex+Uber topics I really wanted to write about but ultimately never did:
- Having one of my rides one evening repeatedly and graphically proposition me for a threesome with his wife.
- The number of times I gave a passenger a low star rating for touching me during the ride.
- That time that two passengers started their sexual encounter in my backseat. Um… no kids. Not in my backseat.
- How often a I was awkwardly asked “so… have you ever had a passenger…” (followed by some sexually-oriented question or proposition). Here’s a hint… it was way too often!
- Then there was the lonely guy on New Years Eve who wanted me to come up this apartment at 2 am for “pizza”.
- And then there is the relationship between Uber drivers and adult oriented businesses. Okay… I am going to share those stories one day. In the interest of economics, of course.
As a female driver, I talked to Uber more than once about my safety. I was told flatly that it wasn’t a concern. The reality was that as female drivers, we were considered a novelty. Touching the merchandise was deemed okay. If we reported a passenger, nothing was usually done. If a passenger reported us for anything, it was our word against theirs. One driver I knew claimed to have been suspended because she turned down a date with a passenger who was harassing her. We had no reason NOT to believe her story – and Uber was an at-will experience for both parties. Several female drivers I knew carried a concealed weapon under their seat. Many do that as a result of at least one harrowing passenger experience.
The reality is that the rideshare experience has boomed partially due to a desire to feel safer. Taxis felt unsafe – the lack of seatbelts, the requirement to carry cash, waiting in the dark on cold empty street corners. Instead, with Uber, you were getting into a car with a person whose name you knew, license plate you had, and background was checked was supposed to be safer.
But Uber has done little to make that experience such – for drivers or for passengers either.
So Why Doesn’t It Feel Safer?
I continue to see a rise on social media of reports among my girlfriends of “creepy driver incidents” (drivers touching passengers, asking inappropriate questions, making sexual advances). I now routinely send Jim an Uber “track my ride” text no matter what city I am in. And Jim walks me out to my waiting Uber when I leave for the airport when possible. Or greets the Uber when I arrive so the driver knows I don’t live alone.
I’ve had to report several drivers for “tandem” driving. This is where one driver is approved to drive by Uber but then brings a second driver along in the passenger seat. Often the approved driver is a female and the actual driver is a male who cannot pass the background check. This is a very dangerous and risky situation! I am running into this on weekend nights in DFW.
And yes, the number of “morning after Ubers” is apparently unchanged – or has even gone up – based on feedback from the young professionals who may be Uber’s most frequent users. This was a recent post on professional services chatter site getfishbowl.com with 324 Upvotes:
Me @5:30am: “Mostly airport runs or early commuters so far?”
Uber driver: “Mostly people sneaking out of places they wish’d they hadn’t ended up.”
So it continues… in the workplace, in the back of the Uber, and on the college campuses. Sex and Uber are intertwined.
At least Kalanick did one thing I’d not criticize him for. He encouraged his employees to ask for and obtain consent for sex. That’s a start. And they did have some focus on business. Among their other party rules:
Keep confidential stuff confidential… no rev (revenue) figures, driver figures, trip figures… don’t talk about internal process, and don’t talk about initiatives that have not already launched.
I’m now in my second year as a facilitator for a university campus education program called Taking a Stand. The program is designed to educate college students on sexual misconduct and teach bystander intervention skills that can be used in social and professional settings where misconduct may occur. Created by the Fraternal Health & Safety Initiative, the program is piloted by a small group of national fraternity and sorority partners. As a leader in one of the partner organizations, we have been taking this program far and wide – to over 110,000 students so far during the program’s existence. I will visit three universities this fall across the south to make presentations as a facilitator. Hopefully over time these students will not only make better choices in their social activities on campus but later in the work environments as professionals.
Meanwhile, Uber is on its own ride of shame until they address the issue of sexual misconduct within their own organization. It is imperative that they create a culture where sex and the conduct around it – for employees, drivers, and passengers – is treated with respect.