By on July 7, 2018

Uber ride, Image: Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures/Flickr

Depending on who you ask, Uber is either a godsend or a harbinger of civilization’s downfall. When the ride-hailing app went live in my corner of the world, disgruntled taxi drivers threatened violence against Uber drivers found waiting for a fare. I still get in the front seat out of habit. Cab drivers in other cities weren’t happy about their monopoly being threatened, either.

Elsewhere, Uber is a common way for urbanites to get around and, despite a number of past controversies involving the company and its drivers, people seem just fine with its presence. Naturally, for some users, safety remains an issue. But what if you could choose not only the route taken, but also the make and model of the vehicle showing up at your door? If the thought of riding in an old beater turns you off, why not wait until the closest vehicle with a five-star safety rating shows up? A new patent filing shows Uber wants to make that happen.

The patent application, discovered by CNET, carries the title “Safe Routing for Navigation Systems.” In it, the application describes a system where user preference and safety data from a variety of sources sends the Uber user on the safety possible trip to their intended destination.

Accident and crime data could be taken into account when mapping out the intended route, as well as the pickup and dropoff location. If certain stretches of roadway have seen more than their fair share of incidents, or if a neighborhood is known to be less safe than others, the route would bypass these supposed danger zones. The patent makes mention of weather and “inter-personal conflicts with other drivers” as other possible reasons for avoiding an area.  As well, the make and model of the Uber driver’s car could also factor in.

The old saying “The customer’s always right” could apply here, as why shouldn’t a paying passenger have it their way? If the trip’s a little longer because of the route changes, all the better for the driver, right? Well, some might not see it that way.

If implemented, the system could see neighborhoods with higher crime rates suddenly become underserved and further stigmatized. And how does the low-income Uber driver in a 10-year-old sedan that, while clean, isn’t known for its stellar crash performance feel about losing fares while the moonlighting driver of a 2017 Civic or RAV4 picks up all the cash? There’s downsides to everything.

However, as this is just a patent application, it’s quite possible the system might not find its way into the company’s fleet. (Which, in some cases, might make nervous passengers less likely to use Uber. Again with the downsides.)

[Image: Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures/Flickr]

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14 Comments on “A Safer Route Home, but Is the Customer Always Right?...”


  • avatar
    dwford

    Perhaps Uber could add “avoid dirt roads” to its mapping algorithms.

    Passengers are welcome to select “5 star safety rated only.” Hope they don’t mind the reduced availability of drivers as a result. Those poor drivers of the 5 star cars won’t like it either. They will be stuck driving longer distances to pickup these safety snowflakes when there are probably quite a few closer cars available.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I’m assuming it will be somewhere in the 4.5+ range if it’s actually implemented. Doesn’t Uber get angry if a driver averaged like a 4.2 or less?. I can’t even remember if I had one lower than the high 4s. If it is 5 only, than that would disqualify almost everyone since someone will always leave a less than perfect score.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    I smell opportunity for Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I live in the burbs where owning a car is almost a necessity. I’ve never been in a position to need a cab or an Über and don’t foresee it any time soon and I currently lease so driving for Über is out of the question (let alone my uneasiness toward having people I don’t know in my car). Recognizing my relative privileges as well as understanding the tradeoffs I make for owning a car and planning on continuing that pattern I don’t see a real issue here.

    My feeling is that Über passengers are fenerally more affluent than those who would use cabs and if they want to restroct themselves and pay more for the privilege let them. Chances are they’re insufferable anyway and having them in a car for more than 5 minutes would make one want to open a vein, whose would be irrelevant.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      tank, Uh No; if I get a DUI, I lose my job. For those not in that situation, a DUI runs about 10K and a few years of higher insurance rates. Many uber drivers have very nice cars and don’t mind a bit about hauling strangers around. Uber is quicker and faster than a cab; we’ll let your insufferable comment slide. Hint; there’s usually more than one person in my Uber ride with me to share in my “insufferableness”. Also try Uber black sometime; if nothing els, it saves parking fees. All I ask is that people don’t drink and drive; Uber takes care of that quite nicely.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        El Scotto, I fully understand your point about people who wisely take a cab or Über when they’ve been drinking. I meant specifically the people who would restrict their rides based on the criteria discussed in this article (specifically the make and model of the car).

        For those who decide, “I need a ride and don’t have a preference what I ride in as long as the driver is competent and can get me home” Über or a cab is fine. However, if somebody decides they need a ride and are denying themselves access to a ride because it’s not their preferred car (even if the driver is otherwise competent and would be able to get them home) then the lack of a ride is their problem.

        Über Black is the additional cost added service where the drivers available own luxury models such as BMWs, Mercedes, Jaguar correct? If you’ve used this service, then more power to you; you decided to pay more for a vehicle type you preferred.

        In my original comment I didn’t mean to imply that people who legitimately need a ride and can’t find one otherwise should not have access. Like I said, I live in the burbs and I have tons of people within 15 minutes who would help (my relative privilege speaking again).

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Your feelings may apply to Uber Black, but not to general Uber or Lyft. As someone who lives in the suburbs and owns two vehicles, Lyft is the most convenient and most inexpensive way to get to and from the airport.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      Quite the opposite.

      People using rideshare like Uber or Lyft are typically those who do not want to drive because of 1) parking is a pain, or $400 a month premium, in a big city 2) too old to drive (older folks who lost the license) 3) going to and from the airport alone (Lyft line and Uber pool are cheaper) 4) need those odd one way trips to and from mechanics, single car family (see $400 parking above), need short connection on the “last mile” of public transit (between train station and office or home 2 miles away).

      Did I miss anything?

  • avatar
    Malforus

    Oh good this story again.
    https://www.npr.org/2012/01/25/145337346/this-app-was-made-for-walking-but-is-it-racist
    Can someone tell me if they remember that above story?

    Looks like UBER was trying to patent the same thing Microsoft did in 2012, avoid high crime in navigation routing.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Oh, they’re trying to actually make an “Avoid Ghetto” route?

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The way I understood the article is that the rider would be able to request a driver without an extensive criminal record or at least not recent assaults against Uber passengers. From the headlines about assaults on passengers by Uber drivers over the past few years, I’m not sure that Uber can do this yet.


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