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  • Tracy Dacus

To Uber or Not to Uber? That Is the Question!

Last week I posted on Facebook that my husband and I had ‘Ubered for the first time last night, and it was awesome.’ Needless to say, the responses were mixed! Some of my friends were in the know about ‘Uber’ but a few seemed shocked I would post such personal information on social media.

I first heard about Uber last year while visiting friends in Dallas. ‘Will you be Ubering over?’ I thought he was speaking another language. Then he realized I’d never Ubered before so he explained what it was. ‘You mean people get into a car with total strangers and pay them to take them places?’ It sounded like a liability nightmare to someone in the insurance business.

So when I heard that Uber had finally been okayed in Houston (I hate to see Dallas beat us on anything, argh) I downloaded the app. We were heading to my high school reunion at a popular spot on Washington, where it’s a nightmare to park. Friends dropped us off, and when we were ready to depart, I pulled up the app and let it be known we needed a ride. Our car arrived within 2 minutes!

The last time I tried to get a Yellow Cab to come pick me up via the Hailacab Houston app, I waited 25 minutes and finally had to find alternate means of transportation. So far, this Uber thing seemed pretty cool.

Uber sent me a photo of our driver, so when we came out to a line of cars we quickly figured out who our designated driver was. We piled into the back seat of her well kept mid-size car. She already knows where to take us, so we spend the 8 minute drive asking her what it’s like to drive for Uber. She’s been doing this on the weekends for the past month or so, it’s fun and some extra money. No special license required, but you have to pass a background check and a vehicle inspection. Do you need any special insurance to drive for Uber?

Uber started in San Francisco in 2009, not a surprising market to give birth to something equivalent to social media hitch-hiking. They’re not the only ride sharing companies out there – Lyft is known for their cars with pink mustaches on the front. Then there’s Ridejoy, which really does look like social media for hitchhikers. To try to stay competitive, taxis are using apps like Flywheel and Curb people can use on their smart phones to hail a cab.

According to waivers, passengers of these TNCs (transportation network companies) must agree to hold the companies harmless for anything that happens on the trip. If an Uber driver causes an accident, it’s unclear who is liable. In one case, a driver considered to be an Uber ‘partner’ (i.e., independent contractor) not an employee, collided with another car in San Francisco and sent a fire hydrant flying through the air. A woman was badly injured by the hydrant, and she is suing Uber as well as the driver with a $750,000 limit.

Last week California Governor Jerry Brown signed in new insurance requirements that will kick in next summer, requiring ridesharing companies’ insurance to cover drivers from the moment they turn on their app, not just when they accept a ride. Drivers must maintain primary liability insurance coverage of at least $50,000 per person and $100,000 per occurrence for death and personal injury, plus $30,000 for property damage. The premiums can be paid by either the driver or the rideshare company.

What about in Texas and other ‘Uber’ states? Uber insists they vet drivers to ensure they have safe records and adequate coverage.

‘From the time a driver accepts a trip request through our app until the completion of the ride, our partners have $1 million of coverage for driver liability. We were also the first ridesharing request service to include $1 million of coverage for uninsured/underinsured motorists, meaning that passengers and drivers are also covered for injuries when another party is at fault and lacks sufficient insurance.’

If you have PIP (personal injury protection) on your personal auto policy, that could also help in the event of an accident if you are a passenger. And note that Uber requires passengers use their official app – not just make a deal on the side of the road with what happens to be an Uber car.

So in the end, is Uber a good thing? I think so. You can give feedback on your driver and your car, and they can give feedback on you. It only cost us $8.80 (including tip) to hire our private designated driver. Taxi drivers all over the country are not happy about these TNCs cutting into their business. But competition is good – maybe in the near future we will get to ride in cleaner cabs that arrive on time.

Click here to learn more and sign up for Uber.

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