The vulnerability of Uber and Lyft driving

I recently wrote that

There are a number of reasons I find driving for Uber and Lyft intolerable. First, these are companies that show no sign of ever being profitable which means that they will surely someday, probably sooner rather than later, fold, leaving me entirely unemployed. Second, the low pay[1] means I have no life beyond driving for Uber and Lyft; I am compelled to work every day. Third, the job takes a toll—something approaching 70,000 miles per year—on my vehicle, even without the risk of collisions, even without the potholes, and I do worry that I will end up with a vehicle that becomes unusable while I’m still making payments on it. This is not, in any sane reckoning, a sustainable situation. But fourth, having earned that Ph.D., I am clearly capable of something better. That I’m stuck driving for Uber and Lyft crushes my soul.[2]

I didn’t mention crime.

I’ve been hearing about a murder of a female Uber driver for days from passengers, some of whom think it’s a contributing factor in an alleged shortage of drivers. Megan Tomasic has an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that is the first I’ve seen of it in the news; the crime appears to have happened after my cut-off time for orders and, while the evidence isn’t quite conclusive, money seems likely to have been a motive.[3]

According to the story, the driver’s dashcam recorded a conversation in which the alleged assailant and the victim each said they had families to support. He had a gun to her head. Several money-related apps on the driver’s phone were accessed, though no money seems to have been taken.[4] The assailant likely realized any transactions would be traceable; payments for rides occur through the app so Uber drivers are a lot less likely to be carrying much cash than taxi drivers.

Yes, of course, it was all senseless. But this is the nature of desperation: Desperate people do desperate things. Like driving for Uber or Lyft. Like robbing Uber and Lyft drivers.

As an Uber/Lyft driver, I have little control over what neighborhoods I will drive to or through. Uber and Lyft threatens driver with suspension for discrimination and, in Pittsburgh, one is rarely far from poverty and the problems associated with poverty. Even starting in Upper Saint Clair, as the day progresses and I go where the orders take me, it is virtually inevitable that I will at some point wind up in problematic neighborhoods where mostly I find people struggling to get by in a terribly unfair socioeconomic system. My only recourse is to cut off orders much earlier, at 7:30 pm, than I ever did in California and so that’s what I do.

In California, I could tailor my Uber and Lyft driving habits in broad strokes. I would go offline to avoid picking up orders in Sonoma County, where my passengers were disproportionately drunks, and in San Francisco, to avoid the City’s ludicrously exploitive and utterly unreasonable parking enforcement regime (one $300 ticket for picking up a $4 ride in a bus zone where there was absolutely no other place to stop was enough, thank you), but notably, not in Oakland or Richmond. I cut off orders sharply at 10:30 pm.

Here in Pittsburgh, I tailor my Uber driving habits to avoid crime and I have been less successful at avoiding drunks: Twice now, I’ve had to call 911 on drunks I couldn’t get out of my car. That line about Pittsburgh being a drinking town with a football problem is a lot less funny when I’m waiting for white supremacist gangsters to come and extract some asshole from my car.

Some passengers ask me about carrying guns. Uber and Lyft both forbid this and the use case is all wrong: I am right-handed, so to be accessible, a gun would have to be on my left side, in a holster under my armpit. The assailant will be behind me, likely but not necessarily in the right rear seat, and would have an ample opportunity to grab my wrist and disarm me before I could even aim my gun. A highly probable outcome is that I could be shot with my own gun.

Similarly, pepper spray would be deployed in a confined space: I would be disabled along with my criminal passenger, assuming again that I could even get it aimed before the passenger could disarm me.

And as in the case of that dead Uber driver, a dashcam is really no defense at all. The retribution likely to be handed down to the accused will not bring her back to life.

As for me, my last ride of the night gave me a low rating because I drove slowly and carefully in a driving rainstorm. It’s always nice to be appreciated for the risks I take.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “This is not a business plan,” Not Housebroken, January 8, 2022,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “I don’t need excuses. I don’t need platitudes. I need a real job,” Not Housebroken, January 30, 2022,
  3. [3]Megan Tomasic, “Police charge Penn Hills man in death of Uber driver in Monroeville,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 17, 2022,
  4. [4]Megan Tomasic, “Police charge Penn Hills man in death of Uber driver in Monroeville,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 17, 2022,