My Personal Journey

When Uber Made Me Think About Terrorism

Uber and terrorism. Not two things I would have thought about together until today.

Under normal circumstances I’m a happy, relatively frequent, Uber user. I grab taxis for short trips around NY but when I know my ride is going to be 10 minutes or more I’ll whip out the app and make the request. The car shocks are usually better and I am less likely to arrive at my destination green to the gills than I do from riding with the average New York cabbie.

So today started out as a normal Uber experience headed to JFK Airport. Make the request, 5 minute wait, the driver arrives… but he’s very young… maybe I should have stopped and thought then. A few blocks driving down a crowded NY street and my driver pulls over and turns off the engine. He then said he needed to go and get money from his brother for the toll. He got out, took his phone but left the car keys and took off out of sight.

Now I am a polite customer. I tip well and often chat amiably with my drivers. I want to support them making a living.

But when the driver leaves how long is a polite period to wait for him to come back? Will he come back? It’s coming up to July 4, the terror risk is high, the SWAT teams are already on the NY streets, and here I am sitting in an abandoned car at a busy intersection! And it’s an SUV so lots of room to pack explosives. Of course my brain went into analysis mode – an interesting problem I think – Jack Bauer would know what to do. Stay, go, call 911, find and dismantle the bomb with my nailfile? A few seconds into my internal debate and I decided if the car was going to explode I probably couldn’t get away anyway, and it would be a quick death, so I decided to give the kid 5 minutes.

But I couldn’t just sit there, so I tweeted the question
and got a prompt answer from Uber support

That didn’t help! Despite trying every screen I could not see where to send Support in-app in the Uber app. Clearly a usability issue in a crisis!

At 4 minutes I got smart and decided English politeness be damned… and got out of the car. I lifted my case out of the trunk and began walking determinedly away – towards my driver running back with a $20 bill. He begged me to get back in and clearly I’m a sucker.

Needless to say, when we got to JFK I gave him a piece of my mind in no uncertain terms. Leaving your passenger alone in the car for 5 minutes was very uncool.

Reflecting back, the whole experience will make me think twice about using Uber again. My driver was not the person registered with Uber but in the traffic melee getting to the car I didn’t stop to check that it was the same guy. His car was the right color but looking back on it now, not the right type. But I was not used to being concerned about my safety so I did not think to check carefully. Silly really. There are enough Uber assault cases now that I should. And why do I assume it’s safe to get into an unlicensed stranger’s car in New York during a terrorism alert?

The bottom line is my experience changes my view of the Uber brand and the service. Do I really want to use a service where now I feel I have to check the details when the driver arrives before I get in the car? Though it’s clearly easy for the driver to not be the driver Uber has on file. And do I want the stress of refusing the car if it’s not the right driver with the unleasantness that could go with it? Probably not. Until the next time I can’t get a cab.