Uber Introduces BYOD for Drivers, Critics Cite Safety Concerns

Controversy over ride-sharing companies continues as Uber pilots its BYOD program in San Francisco, Boston and Charlotte.

by / September 11, 2014

A new BYOD experiment enables Uber drivers to use their own smartphones instead of company-provided devices to find and schedule rides. But while the move improves convenience, the taxicab industry believes the advancement has generated a significant safety risk for passengers.

Uber drivers can now more easily subcontract their work to individuals who haven’t undergone a background check, claims “Who’s Driving Now?,” an initiative of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA). Drivers give a person their username and password to access Uber’s system and find potential riders. Uber would still generate the same profit, and the approved driver would earn money while the subcontractor did the work for them.

In an email to Government Technology, Lane Kasselman, a representative of Uber, stated that subcontracting driving is illegal, and against the company’s terms and conditions. Dave Sutton, spokesman of “Who’s Driving Now?,” admitted that the practice is against Uber’s policy, but felt the company’s move was intended to maximize profit.

“This program will cut Uber's costs – they will no longer have to provide drivers with phones,” Sutton said. “However, it further decreases safety at a time when they claim to be auditing/strengthening their notoriously ineffective criminal background checks. Once again, cutting costs and undercutting public safety.”

Kasselman called the taxicab industry’s comments about safety “ridiculous and irresponsible.”

“At Uber we pride ourselves on using state-of-the-art technology to ensure a safe ride, including a number of fraud prevention techniques and algorithms,” he said. “Throughout the testing of this limited availability BYOD beta, additional anti-fraud features are continually being built into the program.”

NBC4 in Los Angeles investigated claims about Uber’s background checks earlier this year. The media outlet followed the story of Beverly Locke, an ex-con who applied to drive for Uber. Locke was approved by the company and found a rider. To be fair, however, the taxicab industry has its own problems screening drivers.

Uber’s BYOD program kicked-off on Aug. 27 and is currently operating in Boston, Charlotte and San Francisco. It is available for drivers in those cities with an iPhone 4S or newer running iOS7. Uber is looking to expand to other mobile devices in the future, according to the company’s blog.

Traditionally, Uber sends a device pre-loaded with the company’s app to a driver. That option will continue to be available for all drivers, according to Uber’s blog.

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.