Who’s driving your kids home tonight? There’s growing trend among young people, who are turning their backs on taxis and Ubers in favour of lifts from friends organised through social media. But should you be worried?
Anyone who has (mis)spent their youth in Canberra likely knows the cold misery of that long wait at the end of the night for a taxi or an Uber to take you home to your warm bed.
But with all the recent focus on late-night street brawls and coward punches, it’s easy to forget that stepping into that warm car might not offer the safety you expect.
I have at least one mate who is a former cab driver, and I’d trust him with my life. And my own Dad drove taxis in Sydney for most of his life, so I’ve probably got a positive bias towards cabs.
But as a woman who grew up in Canberra, I can straight away think of at least half a dozen incidents where a taxi driver has made inappropriate and worrying advances toward me on the tail end of a night out.
Suffice to say, it’s pretty frightening being trapped in a car with someone unpredictable. In several cases, this led to me giving a slightly different address, and being dropped off at a neighbouring property so the offending driver wouldn’t actually know where I lived.
And I know most of my female friends will have similar stories to tell.
Now, as often seems to be the case in our digitally connected world, the community is coming up with an alternative. A growing number of people are using social media to offer and accept informal lifts for cash.
Passengers post their request, with or without a cash offer; while drivers post their general availability or respond directly to these requests.
In other parts of Australia, taxi companies as well as police have expressed concern about the lack of regulation and safety risks of such arrangements.
The global Uber company particularly has been criticised for not taking strong enough action to address assault and harassment complaints.
It’s also important to remember, it’s not just the passengers who are at risk: paid drivers face the possibility of assault by passengers every day.
(that’s something to think about if you think your kids might be offering rides for a bit of extra cash).
While many lifts-for-cash are arranged between individuals, there are a number of pages that have been set up to organise candidates. No doubt the largest and most high profile among these in Canberra is Tyson’s Lift4Friends, which was created in July 2014 and now has over 5,680 members.
The page is administered by Tyson Bonfield and a select group of his friends. Bonfield is a well-known advocate for the local car-loving community and is also founder of the Tyson’s Car, Bikes, Trucks, Buy Swap and Sell page, which currently has around 57,000 members.
Chris Faulkner, who has helped manage the group since it was established, says it grew out of the community’s needs as well as their own struggles to find a quick and safe lift home after a night on the town.
“We created a dedicated group to provide what the community was seeking, an alternative to expensive taxis by organising a ride-share through social media (long before Uber came to Canberra),” he said.
“Even after Uber arrived, the Lifts group has continued to thrive and grow just on reputation alone. It has grown organically, with no real promotion or advertising,
“Now it’s really a group of mostly mutual friends who either put their hand up for a lift, or let other users know they can do lifts. A good portion of lifts are actually between direct friends,
“It’s more socially connected than taxis or Uber, and in some cases, with better availability when taxis and Uber rides aren’t available, For example, 4am to 5am in Civic can be a difficult time to find a taxi or an Uber,” said Faulkner.
It’s difficult to track how many requests and offers are being posted on Tyson’s page, as drivers and passengers are encouraged to delete the post once a ride has been organised. When we checked on a Saturday morning, there were around 8 requests still visible from the past 10 hours or so.
The group doesn’t set out standard rates, but Chris Faulkner said as a general rule of thumb, you could expect to pay around $20 from anywhere to Civic, $30 if there are multiple stops or pickups around the same area.
“Some people even do $10 lifts, but it’s usually a flat rate agreed before the lift, and the person who gets the lift pays upfront once they are in the car,
“Some people also charge more for prestige or V8 cars due to the fuel costs, wear and tear, etc., but it’s entirely their choice,
“If people don’t like the price they can choose a cheaper lift,” he said.
Far more than the cost, however, safety and security are the obvious concerns. A very visible pinned post, as well as regular reminders from admins, set out the rules of engagement for the group. These advise a strong focus on safety and a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment.
The team aims to manage the page actively, and do not permit anyone to offer rides unless they’ve first provided a copy of their driver’s licence to the page admins.
The page is also clearly intended for individuals to share rides informally – businesses or people using paid rides as a major source of income are not permitted and will be removed if identified.
Tyson Bonfield himself is very clear that drivers they should not operate under the influence of drugs or alcohol, should obey road rules at all times, and should not pick up a stranger if they don’t feel safe doing so.
“We actually don’t recommend riding with strangers,” said Bonfield.
“Any stupid behaviour on the road, for example, breaking any road rules, will get you blocked instantly,” he said.
Chris Faulkner also said, “Safety is probably a little better than Ubers or taxis, especially for women travelling alone, as an example,
“You can usually pick and choose who your lift will be. Either a direct friend or somebody with lots of mutual friends who would be a better choice than a complete stranger,” he said.
“Otherwise the standard safety protocol is encouraged where a police matter might arise. As the group is not commercial in nature, the lift exchange is treated as a private agreement, so any issues that occur would be passed on to the police,
“So far we have really only had issues of people not paying for their lift, for example, going into a party and saying they will bring money back out. Obviously, the driver isn’t going to put themselves in danger and go in and demand payment,
“So we remove these people from the group and block them permanently,
“Any suspicious drivers or requests are also monitored and scrutinised by the admin team to ensure the group is kept safe as possible,” said Faulkner.
Certainly, as the group has grown, the admin team seems to have recognised the need for greater caution.
“We are working on things to increase the usefulness of the group and also bring in more thorough licencing checks that can be authoritatively verified, plus online payments and a solution to taxation, as at the moment, we rely solely on the person performing lifts to declare their income,” said Faulkner.
“However, I do think the group fills the void below the Uber price point, and offers a higher level of social awareness for who is driving for you.
“We’re seeing a really strong community bond between drivers, other drivers and the regular users of the group since the group started, and we get at least 30 new users a week, so the group is steadily growing,
“I personally have had a few dangerous rides with Uber, and I barely use it, whereas I’ve never had an unsafe moment in a Tyson’s lift,” he said.
Have you used a lifts-for-cash arrangement, or do you know anyone who has? Would you be more or less comfortable knowing your kids were riding home with friends-of-friends rather than a taxi or an Uber?