Uber, the popular ridesharing service, is causing chaos at bars and night clubs. Fake, and in some cases real, drivers are preying on drunk patrons late at night. Conversely, non-Uber drivers say drunk patrons have tried to force their way into their cars, thinking they were their Uber ride.
The chaos can be traced to the fact that there’s no way to identify an Uber car from the outside.
Unlike the bright yellow taxis that cruise New York City streets for passengers, Uber drivers use private passenger cars with no obvious markings.
The problem was brought into sharp contrast by the death of Samantha Josephson in Columbia, S.C.
The 21-year-old woman was murdered after getting into a private passenger car she thought was her Uber.
The suspect, identified as Nathaniel David Rowland, 24, was allegedly cruising bars in his dark sedan looking for victims.
Police said Rowland allegedly activated child safety locks in the back seat to prevent Josephson from escaping. Her body was found along a rural road.
While the crime is shocking, it’s not an isolated incident.
An informal IM survey found that similar incidents have occurred elsewhere, fortunately, without the tragic results.
But it’s not just fake drivers who are the problem. Rowdy bar patrons have reportedly tried to climb into private passenger cars in the vicinity of clubs and bars, thinking they were Uber cars.
One driver recounted a terrifying experience on Facebook while driving near the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. late last Friday.
“Three separate groups of drunk youngsters tried to open my back passenger door,” he recounted. “I’m assuming they were thinking I was their Uber.
“If my doors had been unlocked they would’ve been inside sitting down before I could’ve stopped them.”
One woman in her 40s who uses Uber frequently, says she’s terrified of falling asleep in the back of a car on drives from the airport to her New York City office at night.
Fake Uber drivers have been known to prowl JFK International Airport, looking to scam unsuspecting passengers.
Uber in 2016 filed a complaint over the number of bogus drivers stealing their customers at New York airports and said the problem had reached a “crisis” level. Police periodically crackdown, but the problem persists.
Even legitimate Uber drivers may pose a threat.
A CNN investigation last year found more than 100 Uber drivers have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers in the past four years.
The drivers were arrested, are wanted by police, or have been named in civil suits related to the incidents.
At least 31 drivers have been convicted for crimes ranging from forcible touching and false imprisonment to rape, and dozens of criminal and civil cases are pending, CNN found.
The news network’s investigation was sparked by John David Sanchez, 54, in San Diego, Calif.
A female passenger was so drunk, she asked Sanchez to stop so she could step outside to vomit. Afterward, she passed out in the back of the car.
When she regained consciousness, the Uber driver was on top of her, raping her, a block from her home, according to the police report and sources cited by CNN.
Police executed a search warrant and found videos on Sanchez’s computer showing him raping women and abusing young teenagers, dating back at least five years. He was eventually convicted and sentence to 80 years in prison.
Uber is a defendant in several civil suits involving alleged rapes and assaults by its drivers. The company, however, refuses to provide any data on the numbers of crimes committed by its drivers.
“You are pretty much hitchhiking with strangers,” one female victim told CNN. “How many people is it going to take to get assaulted before something is done?”
Josephson fell into the same trap, although Rowland, was only posing as an Uber driver.
She got into his car in Columbia at about 1.30 am on Friday thinking it was her Uber ride, according to a surveillance video. Her body was in woods off a dirt road about 65 miles away from where she was last seen.
“There are no words to describe the immense pain, his actions have caused our family and friends. He’s taken away a piece of our heart, soul and life. Shame on him. We thought he would be here to see his evil face,” said Josephson’s mother Marci at a bail hearing for Rowland.
Josephson was found to have a number of wounds to her head, neck, face, upper body, suggesting she had been severely beaten. Her body was found by turkey hunters just hours after she had been dumped there.
The night after the murder, Rowland was allegedly back cruising about two blocks away from the bar where Josephson was kidnapped, according to media reports.
A police officer spotted the black Chevy Impala. Rowland tried to flee but was stopped and arrested after a short.
Josephson’s blood was found in the trunk and inside Rowland’s car along with her cellphone, bleach, window cleaner and cleaning wipes, police said.
“She had, in fact, summoned an Uber ride. She was waiting for that Uber ride to come, we believe. She simply mistakenly got into this car thinking it was an Uber ride,” said Columbia Police Department Chief Skip Holbrook at a news conference.
Uber cars are ordered through a phone app that provides the driver’s name and photo along with the make and model of the car and its license number.
As an additional check, drivers are provided their passenger’s name to make sure they are picking up the right person.
But as all too often the case, those safeguards aren’t proving to be enough.
It’s on Uber to do more to distinguish their cars and vet their drivers.