Uber's Ride Stealing Problem

Uber problems: Ride stealing plagues hot new service and Lyft too in Houston — hey, isn't that my car?

Uber problems: Ride stealing plagues hot new service in Houston

Lyft car service
A number of Lyft and Uber users have reported ride-sharing 'hijackings' as of late. Lyft's iconic pink mustache might be fun, but losing your ride isn't. Lyft/Facebook
Turning to Uber doesn't always turn out to be a sure ride in Houston. Courtesy of Uber
Lyft car service

Ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft have been helpful in solving Houstonians' transportation problems since being introduced to the area in February. But the hot new transportation marvels are not without their share of problems, some of which stem from riders' failure to use proper ride-sharing etiquette.

And as hundreds of drivers — many inexperienced in the transportation business — apply for permits under the Houston city ordinance that allows such services to operate, there is a fear that the problem is only going to get worse.

"Half of the time I'm telling the (Houston) driver where to go. It's not that way in Los Angeles and New York."  

Following dinner and drinks at El Big Bad, Jeff Shell, director of Neal Hamil Agency and executive director of Little Black Dress Designer, used Lyft to procure a ride. Shell eventually spotted the vehicle assigned to him, but reported that before he could get to the driver, a group of people hopped into the car.

"I was charged for that trip I didn't take," Shell says, adding that he reported the discrepancy and was ultimately credited back the money, although he found the experience "a little annoying." In spite of the incident, Shell said he still "love(s) the new transportation options."

Rosemarie Johnson, a Houston Chronicle Best Dressed honoree and philanthropist, had a similar experience when she tried to leave a gala at the Corinthian in downtown Houston. She called Uber and the driver said he was right across the street. "And then all of a sudden he's taking off," she recalls. 

He was a "good mile and a half away" when she reached him by phone only to find out another woman and her daughter were in the town car meant for her. "It was frustrating because I wanted to be one of the first people out of the door and it ended up I was one of the last," Johnson says.

Fortunately, she spotted a friend who had also ordered a car from Uber and hopped ride with her when it arrived.

As a regular Uber user on both coasts, where she has never had such a problem, Johnson believes that Uber drivers in Houston are simply too inexperienced and new to the transportation game. "Half of the time I'm telling the (Houston) driver where to go. It's not that way in Los Angeles and New York," she says. "They have to educate their drivers better."

And Johnson thinks, particularly at big events, it would be a good idea for Uber drivers to carry a dry erasable white board to write the Uber user's name on it. "I've seen them do that at Cipriani in New York," she says. "It just makes more sense."

But perhaps it's not just a Houston problem.

Cherri Carbonara, principal of marketing and communications firm the Carbonara Group, had a similar experience while using Uber —  in Washington, D.C.  Carbonara was waiting for her selected vehicle to show up when she received a call that the driver had nearly arrived at her location. As she spotted the car assigned to her, a man entered the vehicle instead and then quickly sped away.

"I thought, 'I'm not paying for that man's ride'," she says. Carbonara quickly canceled the ride using the service's phone app to avoid being charged and proceeded to hail a taxi cab instead.

"In all other cases, it's been very convenient and reliable," Carbonara says of the ride-sharing service, adding that she felt this was an isolated incident and would still use Uber for rides in the future.

Houstonians won't have to worry about Lyft drivers picking up the wrong person for much longer. The company plans to pull out of Houston on Nov. 20 rather than comply with new rules that mandate a background check for drivers.


CultureMap editor-in-chief Clifford Pugh contributed to this report.