Just how safe are Uber rides in Malaysia?

UPDATE: Police has arrested the Uber driver that was involved in the robery. Reported to have existing criminal history.

On Sunday evening, a lady was allegedly robbed at knifepoint by an Uber driver. This occurred while she was taking a ride home from Mid Valley. According to the police report, there were two men in the car and they have forced her to surrender all her valuables before dropping her off by the roadside. 

According to TheStar, Serdang Deputy OCPD Supt Lee Wai Leong has confirmed the incident and they tracing the two suspects.

We have reached out to Uber for more information and they have sent us the following statement:

We are unable to comment on this specific case given that it is an ongoing investigation. We are cooperating with the authorities with their investigation and would like to assure the public that Uber takes safety very seriously. We facilitate millions of rides in Malaysia every week and even one incident like this is one too many. Please know that we work continuously to improve, so that riders get from point A to B safely, reliably and affordably each time.

Uber Malaysia had also provided a link to their safety page which highlights their efforts in keeping both riders and drivers safe.

Uber prides itself on being a provider of safe and reliable rides. Since its introduction in Malaysia, they were the best alternative to taxi. Getting a clean vehicle with a courteous driver is just a few taps away on your smartphone.

Since it runs on an online platform, all rides are tracked closely by Uber, and both users and drivers are subjected to a rating system to ensure a high standard of service. Unfortunately, this recent incident shows that there are weaknesses that need to be addressed.

Uber needs to do more

Previously, new Uber drivers had to undergo stringent checks before you can start driving. During the early days, potential recruits had to meet up with Uber reps face to face while bringing along their documents for verification.

Unfortunately, these days, Uber appears to be more lax with regards to driver screening. One of our colleagues had registered himself as an Uber driver late last year and it is shocking how easy it was for him to sign up as a driver. All he needed to do was to follow the steps on the app and then submit a copy of his driver’s license, identity card and proof of insurance. He was approved the very next day without meeting anyone from Uber.

When it comes to ratings, Uber used to take poor ratings seriously. One-star rides were considered very serious which could lead to immediate suspension. When such rating is given, Uber would normally contact both driver and passenger to investigate. From our colleague’s experience, he had gotten a trip with a one-star rating and surprisingly there was no contact from Uber with regards to his abysmal rating. In the case of the alleged robbery, the said driver should be barred from the system especially when it showed an average rating of just 2.8 stars. Previously, we are told that drivers had to maintain a minimum average of 4.0 stars or else they would be banned from driving.

It seems that Uber is getting more lenient on its drivers lately and as a result, the service starts to deteriorate. There are occasions that drivers call up customers to ask for their destination and some might cancel on you if you’re going somewhere that’s not favourable to them. To make matters worse, the new interface makes it harder to make a complaint. Instead of an open field, you are required to choose from a preset listing of categories that may not necessary cover the nature of your complaint. Responses from customer service used to be good but now you get robotic auto responder-like replies. Lucky for me, majority of my rides are pleasant although some of my colleagues had a couple of less than ideal experiences.

With this incident, Uber seriously need to relook into their recruitment process and they have to be stricter with new drivers. Submission of documents online might not be sufficient and perhaps they should reintroduce face to face meet ups and training like they used to back when they first started. 

Tips to stay safe

Like any form of public/shared transportation, there are bound to be risks. Here are a couple of tips for a safer ride.

1. Ensure you’re getting into the right car with the right driver
Before getting into a car, do check if the vehicle registration number/model is correct and the actual driver matches the profile photo in the app. Do not enter the vehicle if it is a different vehicle or someone else is behind the wheel. If you face a mismatch, always report the problem so that Uber can take action.

2. Send your trip ETA to your loved ones
While on a trip, we recommend sharing your trip to your friends or family so that they can track your journey. Not only they will know your estimated time of arrival but they can also get details of the vehicle you’re in.

3. Do not enter if there’s another passenger
Uber drivers are not allowed to carry other passengers when you request a ride. If there’s someone else other than the driver, do not enter the vehicle and cancel the trip. As always, lodge a complaint from the app so that Uber can take necessary action. In some markets, there’s UberPool which is a co-sharing option with other passengers similar to GrabShare. This isn’t available in Malaysia so you should have a car to yourself. 

How’s your Uber experience so far? Let us know in the comments below. 

UPDATE: According to ChinaPress and TheStar, the driver was arrested Pagoh R&R in Johor. The Sedang deputy OCPD has also shared that the suspect has two criminal records and they are still on a lookout for the second suspect.

This raises the question again, how stringent are Uber’s background checks for new drivers? On top of that, how did a driver with a low rating is still permitted to drive?

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Alexander Wong