Richard Turen
Richard Turen

It may have occurred to you over the past 17 years that I am not at all an expert on a great many topics that impact our industry. I am not sure that any one person is. But there are some concepts of late that have sort of floated past me without my ability to get my arms around them with any degree of real understanding.

In a broad sense, the rideshare firms Uber and Lyft, with their multibillion-dollar valuations, are in that category. To me, no one ever seems to speak about a few basic concerns that would prevent me from ever encouraging anyone in our family to use one of these services.

In digital medieval times -- May 2010 -- Uber beta-launched in San Francisco at the App-Show. They garnered attention by offering free limo rides to attendees.

Lots of news since then. The raising of billions in capital from investors like Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, some folks in the Ukraine, Baidu (the Chinese search engine power) and a great many others.

Lyft set its valuation at $24 billion earlier this year, despite the fact that the company had a net loss of $1 billion last year. You've likely read about Uber's consistent losses and sky-high valuation.

I understand why valuations could go so high when profits are nonexistent. It is estimated that every actual Uber ride results in a loss for the company in the range of $1.50. But it is also true that the percentage of young people who say they want to own a car is way down, as are applications for driver's licenses.

I've always wondered about just how risky it must be to get into a car that takes total strangers on an average of 18 rides a day and is driven by someone who is paid less than $8 an hour and who might or might not have passed a comprehensive background security check. But it's really the germs that concern me.

The insurance company NetQuote commissioned a study this year to look at health and safety risks associated with ridesharing. Here are a few of the highlights of their research:

  • The back seat of a ridesharing vehicle is germier than the average toilet seat: 35,000 times more germs on average
  • The back seat has about 219 times the number of germs one would find in a regularly cleaned, licensed taxi
  • There were three times more germs in rideshare vehicles than in tested rental cars
  • The highest germ count in the study was found on window buttons, seat belts and door handles.

The NetQuote study only examined a few random vehicles. There are germs all around us. We live with them, and that's fine. The problem is that if at least one of the other 17 riders that day was sick, you could be taking risks that you might want to avoid. 

I have no interest in ridesharing, and I am really surprised that virtually no one else speaks about germs in shared cars. Perhaps Jerry Seinfeld and I can do a TV series on this theme after "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" has run its course.

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