Uber Hits Speed Bump on Campus

You want to go to Chick-fil-A, but it is too far away to walk. Hopeful, you check the WKND email, but there is no SAC shuttle. A few years ago, you might have had to choose a closer (and less satisfying) restaurant. Now, however, you know that you have an alternative: Uber, a simple app that calls nearby drivers to bring you wherever you want to go.

Upon its founding, Uber initially served primarily the San Francisco Bay Area but has long since expanded to cover locations worldwide. According to the Uber company, the app “represents a flexible new way to earn money” and “[helps] strengthen local economies, [improves] access to transportation, and [makes] streets safer.”

Uber is, indeed, convenient. First, users enter a pickup location and destination and choose one of four ride options, which vary in size and luxury. Based on their input, they are given a wait time and price, and can even track where their ride is geographically in relation to their current location. They also have access to the driver’s contact information and vehicle details, such as the make and model of car or its license plate number. The app automatically charges the credit card in a user’s profile, though passengers have an option of splitting the fare.

This flexibility and accessibility has made Uber a popular option for students on campus. Eniitan Tejuoso ’17 said, “Transportation options are quite limited in Wallingford, and there is no public transport nearby. If there is no Choate shuttle and you have to go somewhere kind of far urgently, then I think Uber is one of few options.”

Edward Rakphongphairaj ’17 is a frequent Uber customer. He said, “I’ve personally been on too many Ubers to count, and all of those experiences have been well above adequate.”

Perhaps the most heavily discussed concerns with companies like Uber is safety. The app has a few features, including the rating system, meant to help customers make informed decisions. In addition to being able to see the drivers’ existing average rating, Katrina Gonzalez ’17 added, “Passengers give the drivers ratings, and I don’t think that the app gives a passenger the driver whom he or she rated low.”

There are also some advantages to being able to reach out to drivers directly: for example, when passengers leaves something behind, they can contact the drivers to get it back, whereas in a taxi, the passengers would rarely be able to do so.

Despite Uber’s safety features, members of Choate’s administration appear wary of students’ use of Uber. In fact, in a section added just last summer, the Student Handbook now states, “The School discourages the use of Uber and other ridesharing firms and advises families to check their terms of agreement before arranging rides or allowing their children to use such services.”

Dean of Students Mr. James Stanley explained that there are several reasons for this addition. For one, Uber policy prohibits passengers under 18 from riding in the absence of an Uber account holder who is older than 18. The School has a responsibility to uphold the corporate policy.

The second reason is safety. “During a meeting last year, boarding schools talked about whether there needs to be an Uber policy because use of the service was becoming an issue at peer schools. The responses ranged from ‘We do not allow it for anybody’ to ‘Uber? What’s Uber? Some schools have decided to prohibit all Uber use, others have banned use by students under 18, and others have chosen to discourage Uber use because students do not always know what the experience is going to be like. There are some high-profile national cases in which Uber drivers have been inappropriate.” 

Fifth Form Dean Ms. Nancy Miller reiterated Mr. Stanley’s worries. The service “makes me feel very uncomfortable,” she explained. “I have been discouraging students from using Uber.”

Students may wonder, ‘if not Uber, then what?’ A few faculty members suggested taking SAC shuttles, calling taxis, or getting a ride from advisers. Other options are walking or choosing to go to restaurants closer to campus. The school prohibits students hitching rides in a day student’s car.

Mr. Stanley understands why students want to use Uber. “Faculty members are aware that taxi services around here are unpredictable,” he said. “As an adviser and a Dean on Duty, I have driven down the movie theater to pick up students who have been abandoned by taxis. But students need to realize that they don’t always know what the Uber driver is going to be like. We all need to think long and hard before we make a decision to call Uber.”

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