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Student assaulted in presumed Uber taxi
By Sarah Doiron and Tara O’Neill
After a Quinnipiac female student entered what she trusted to be an Uber taxi last month in New Haven, two men attempted to sexually assault her, according to a crime report from the Hamden Police Department.
The car picked her up near Yorkside Pizza next to Toad’s Place between 1-1:30 a.m on March 22. The driver stopped at what the student believed to be Papa John’s on Whalley Avenue in New Haven and picked up two other males, according to the crime report.
Once they arrived at the student’s address, the driver questioned her about her relationship status. The two males in the back seat attempted to sexually assault her, according to the crime report. But the student fought back and managed to exit the vehicle, sustaining minor injuries.
“That is completely awful. If you’re going to go to Toad’s and you’re drunk and you’re coming back, please make sure you’re with a friend. It’s crazy that something like that could happen to a girl, that she could get tricked because of Uber,” sophomore Fanonx Rogers said.
This recent incident prompted an email from Chief of Public Safety David Barger sent to the entire student body. In the email, Barger stated that there had been more than one recent occurrence.
“There have been several recent incidents in which students have gotten into vehicles in the greater New Haven area, which they believed to be Uber cars when in fact, they were not,” Barger wrote in the email.
Uber is a taxi service that launched in 2009, according to its website. The website boasts its cheap rates, reliable pickups and spreading global presence.
But despite the campus-wide ban, students still use the taxi service, according to Barger.
“Uber is still banned, although we know students still use it,” Barger said. “We chase all the Ubers away from entering campus because we have to.”
Rogers also believes Uber shouldn’t be to blame.
“Uber is revolutionary as far as taking over the whole taxi service I guess, but can you blame Uber for that though?” he said. “Because it’s not their fault, it’s creeps using that to their advantage to violate and harass women.”
Rogers suggests Uber designate their cars with stickers.
Barger believes students are still using it because the service can be accessed and a driver can be assigned to them quickly through the Uber app.
“Students are brought up utilizing this technology,” Barger said. “This makes it easier for them to access a taxi and it is a part of the reason why students use Uber.”
Junior Chris Lynch thinks Uber could change their policies to be more safe.
“Maybe Uber could up their policy and have stricter and more rigorous application, or maybe they change something to where you have to have a tap confirmation with the driver to ensure it’s the real person.”
Barger went on to advise students still using Uber taxis to be safe by checking the cars that pick them up with all the information provided to them through the app.
“The Uber App will give you the driver’s name, type of vehicle picking you up and the license plate number,” Barger wrote in the email. “You also have the ability to track your driver on a map and receive a text when the Uber Car reaches the designated pickup location.”
Barger does not advocate students using Uber taxis because he said the process for Uber drivers to be approved through the company does not currently meet certain licensing and insurance requirement.
“My greatest problem is that they are not held to the same level of scrutiny that an average taxi driver is,” Barger said. “There are a variety of types of Uber cars in a variety of different colors that don’t have labels on them. If you get into a commercial taxi, they are clearly marked and are required by law to have their medallion and required to have that light on top.”
Junior Alice Petsiava still uses Uber even after Barger sent out the email to all the students warning them to be careful with the company.
“It’s cheaper and it takes me where I want to go. You can track your driver, if you’re careful its fine. In the app it shows you who the driver is, gives you their number, their car and everything. People jump into cars without even knowing.”
Junior Peter Annunziata has been a certified Uber driver for a couple of weeks. He said he thinks if students want to utilize the Uber taxis, they should not be fearful in doing so. But he also said students should not travel alone.
“I don’t think students should be afraid to take Ubers,” Annunziata said. “I think it’s always a good idea to be with a friend while taking any form of transportation in a city on the weekend. You never know what could happen if you aren’t paying attention to your surroundings and an extra set of eyes and ears would be beneficial to your safety.”
Annunziata said there are many precautions taken by the company to ensure the safety of those who use the Uber taxi service. Beyond a background check, Annunziata said there is a rating system for Uber users through the app.
“After the background check, there is a five-star rating system which allows users to rate Uber drivers,” he said. “The ratings go as low as one star if they are harassed or have a bad experience in a car. In the case that an Uber driver receives a at the one-star level, the company would look into why the driver got that rating to see if the incident was bad enough for a revocation, or the rider can send a report through the app.”
Though Annunziata is still a new Uber driver, he was able to give some advice to students.
“My advice would be if you’re unsure if it’s the right car, call the driver through the app or ask the driver what your name is because the driver should know through the app,” Annunziata said.
UPDATE: 4/2/15 at 1:45 p.m.
Uber Representative Matt Wing said in a statement there were no reports from any riders of this assault being in an Uber taxi.
“We have no reports from riders about an incident and we have not been contacted by the authorities,” Wing said.