What Uber, Lyft riders can do to stay safe
A first-time visitor said she saw more of Charlotte than she wanted when a chatty Uber driver turned a 15-minute trip into a harrowing 45-minute ordeal without her consent.
Sara Alfageeh, a 23-year-old Boston illustrator and creative director, was in town for last weekend’s comics convention, HeroesCon, when she and a friend decided to visit Carowinds near the South Carolina line Monday.
The ride back to uptown Charlotte later that night with a “very enthusiastic conversationalist” as their Uber driver started normally, Alfageeh said Tuesday. He peppered her with questions about publishing, asked if she could help him professionally and even asked for her email address. Alfageeh said she tried to steer him toward local resources.
“The tone very dramatically shifted when he quite clearly said, ‘Let me take this exit, don’t worry about the extra cost,’ “ she said.
The women tried to stay calm, unsure of how the driver would react to questions. Then Alfageeh checked the Uber app on her phone and saw that the driver had reported the trip ended while they were still traveling on a highway. It was dark and the women had no idea where they were.
“I went from being in a ridesharing app to suddenly I was in a car with a stranger, with no means of passing on information about what was going on,” she said.
He also put a different address into his GPS, she said.
Alfageeh then called a friend, telling her loud enough for the driver to hear that they were enroute to their hotel. The driver kept saying they would be there in three minutes, and ultimately dropped her and her friend on a corner — a seven-minute walk from their hotel.
On Tuesday afternoon, after reporting the story to Uber on its app and in Twitter messages, Alfageeh said an Uber representative called to say Alfageeh’s account of the ride matched GPS data. Uber said the driver violated company guidelines and had been suspended, she said, but did not apologize.
In a response to Observer questions, an Uber spokeswoman said: “What’s been described is extremely concerning. We are in touch with the rider and have removed the driver’s access to the app pending investigation.”
Uber said the app has features to help riders feel safe, including automatically sharing their rides with loved ones and an emergency button for riders and drivers. In more than 60 cities, including Raleigh but not Charlotte, use of the emergency button sends trip details to 911 dispatchers.
Alfageeh has not filed a police report about “this friendly conversation that turned into a kidnapping situation.” But she said she’s read similar accounts by women of men taking personal liberties in business transactions.
“I feel weirdly calm about the situation. Me and my friend learned that we could handle this situation,” she said. “I think he saw two friendly young women … he tried to make it a personal interaction. But we’re not friends.”