Uber user taken for an expensive ride

If you get caught by a rogue Uber driver, then you’re on your own, as Lorna Lerena found to her cost.

The call-a-cab-system works through apps on smartphones, and according to one website, drivers are required to register by credit card.

I’m not sure if that’s the case in South Africa because everything to do with Uber’s drivers and “riders is confidential”.

The Uber app keeps track of the drivers’ earnings and pays them accordingly.

Ms Lerena of Kalk Bay took an Uber to the airport and paid the driver, who uses a Chevrolet Cruze, R750 cash including a R178 tip.

“The next day, Saturday, he took me to the Blue Route Mall in Tokai and charged me R100, even though Uber rate was cheaper. However, Uber wouldn’t accept it as it showed on their system that R572 was still outstanding from the Friday trip, even though I paid the driver cash, as I did on Saturday,” Ms Lerena said.

“The Chevrolet Cruze driver is contacting your clients directly (including me) saying he can give better service and rates than Uber and we must deal directly with him,” she told the Uber support centre when she asked for her money back.

Call centre agents Katie C, Nora O’L and Ria (no surnames), said they would do everything they could to help. But they didn’t, except work from the prepared script.

Nora wrote: “What gives me confidence in the Uber system is the traceability…”

And they will take the appropriate action against the driver. But I don’t know if they did because everything about riders and drivers is confidential, even though Ms Lerena was happy to have her name in the newspaper. She said she sent several emails to Uber asking what they were going to do about refunding her.

There was no response although they did later say they would credit her account with R178 – the tip.

But no mention was made of the R572 she gave to the driver in the Chevrolet Cruze.

When I wanted answers from Uber I first tried the call centre agents, Katie C, Nora O’L and Ria, who first dealt with the complaint.

I got nowhere, although I did get a reply from Bhaway Mehta who said he would help but he needed confirmation that Ms Lerena agreed I could have the information because everything is confidential. Even though the letter I sent the agents clearly said she was happy for me to have it. But he didn’t respond either.

Eventually I managed to contact Uber’s spokeswoman, Samantha Allenberg, who at first told me she couldn’t answer my questions because they don’t disclose details “due to our privacy policy”.

When I told her I was going to publish the story anyway Ms Allenberg said that Uber had refunded Ms Lerena.

They did, but only the tip which was credited to her account.

When I asked Ms Allenberg if the driver is registered with Uber, she said: “We can’t disclose driver or rider details due to our privacy policy.”

And she gave the same answer when I asked if Uber had had complaints about him before, and if so, whether he was still working for them.

“All drivers go through a rigorous screening process which includes a criminal background check. Drivers registered with a PDP, Operators Card, Double Disk, Insurance and Roadworthy documents. Riders and drivers provide feedback after every trip, this feedback is regularly monitored. We also have an incident response team who manage any serious incidents,” Ms Allenberg said.

Is it a common practice for Uber drivers to poach customers?

“Uber is an open and non-exclusive technology platform,” she said, adding that, “we have been in touch with the customer and this (the refund) has been resolved.”

An unhappy Ms Lerena confirmed that Uber had credited her account with R178, the tip she gave the driver.

As for the R572, that seems to have disappeared into the Chevrolet Cruze driver’s wallet.

This despite Katie C telling Ms Lerena: “While our partner drivers act as independent transportation provid-ers, rider safety and experience is paramount, so the situation you describe is highly concerning. I want to assure you that we take any allegation of unprofessional behaviour extremely seriously and this is definitely something I will be following up with your driver to take the necessary actions.”

So did Uber take it up with the driver? How long is a piece of string?