The following is a message from ORS director of Safety, Transportation and Telecommunications Tom Allen on ensuring personal safety when utilizing regulated rideshare services:
Personal safety is paramount when employing any rideshare services, and the following recommendations are offered to help ensure riders are getting into the proper vehicle.
Transportation Network Carriers (TNCs) are required to have a trade dress in their windshield (this is, the Uber/Lyft/Spotaride/Select/Uzurv 360 stickers). If the vehicle does not have a trade dress, it is either not the rider’s TNC or the driver is operating illegally, so cancel the ride.
Next, the rider should always check to make sure that the notification they received from the TNC has the vehicle make and model and license tag of the vehicle that has arrived to pick the rider up. If the make, model and tag do not match, it’s not the rider’s TNC or the driver is operating illegally, so cancel the ride.
The customer will also receive the driver’s name. A rider should always ask the drivers name and quiz him or her about the rider’s destination. If the driver can’t properly answer, the rider should cancel the trip.
ORS also encourages riders to send a screenshot of the app that includes the driver’s name, make and model to a friend so they will have that information. Of course, once the rider has arrived safely, let that same friend know that they have arrived.
During the trip, it is important that the rider pays attention to their surroundings, the same that they would do as a driver. It’s not the time to text, talk on the phone, sleep or play on apps. If it looks like the TNC is altering from the known route, driving unsafely or doing anything suspicious, the rider should question the driver or, at a minimum, let the aforementioned friend know.
Also, do not tip the drivers in cash. Use the tip feature on the app. Tipping with cash is not only illegal, but the rider is putting themselves in a potentially precarious situation that could lead to robbery, theft, etc.
In some jurisdictions, the TNCs are developing “panic buttons” for both riders and drivers. The ORS has been advocating to the TNCs that we would like to have that technology in South Carolina as soon as possible (there is no statutory requirement for this, however, so we can only ask).
We also encourage riders to travel in groups. Not only is it safer, but also cheaper as you can split the fee.
Finally, I mentioned several times that a rider should “cancel the ride.” Many riders are fearful of doing this because there is a cancellation fee associated with this action. While we cannot guarantee that you will receive a refund of fees, our experience generally has been that the TNCs are usually willing to refund the cancellation charge if a rider cancels a trip due to a TNC partner not operating within the bounds of statutory guidelines or violating the TNC’s terms and conditions. In any case, your safety outweighs any potential loss of a cancellation fee.
The ORS enforces the TNC Act every day. The ORS has field inspectors that are certified law enforcement officers. They make routine inspections, patrols, and traffic stops in which TNC drivers must demonstrate appropriate insurance, vehicle inspection, trade dress and that the vehicle they are operating in matches the make, model, and license tag of the notification the rider receives.
Our focus is usually in high density/high traffic areas like airports and tourist areas, but we occasionally do focused inspections at concerts, football games, festivals and other special events. Though our inspectors are the primary enforcers of the TNC Act, the statute specifically states that any certified law enforcement officer or jurisdiction can enforce the provisions of the Act.
There are some other enforcement activities that we engage in that are behind the scenes. For instance, the ORS conducts audits of the TNCs driver files at a minimum of once per year. We make sure that the drivers’ licenses and insurance are valid and examine drivers’ motor vehicle records and their background checks.
We also have the statutory authority to examine an individual driver file upon request should we have a complaint or if a driver is engaging in suspicious activity. I am in direct contact with the TNC representatives and talk to them typically once or twice per week to let them know about driver issues or to resolve complaints. I also have a scheduled quarterly conference calls with the TNCs to address and resolve any issues that have arisen in SC throughout the quarter.
Exercise the aforementioned precautions and never be afraid to cancel a ride if you feel something isn't adding up, and feel free to report any concerns or issues to the ORS at (803) 737-0800.