COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - One month ago, Samantha Josephson vanished from Columbia's Five Points district after a night out with friends.
Her body was later found in Clarendon County. Nathaniel Rowland was arrested and charged in her death. Police say Josephson got into Rowlands’s car believing it was her Uber ride.
Since then, Uber has pledged to launch a number of safety features in Columbia and nationally.
One of the features that rolled out in Columbia involves a safe pick up/drop off location for rideshare companies and USC shuttles on Santee Avenue.
The Uber app, during the school year, now forces drivers and riders to meet at the Santee Avenue area, which is monitored by police.
We tested it Saturday night, however, and it did not work. We were allowed to hail an Uber from any location in Five Points.
“Not once, have I been funneled to this area,” said Uber Driver Sean McGuinness. “The majority of them, I’m still picking up from outside the bars.”
He also adds that Uber has not communicated with him regarding the new feature. We spoke with another Uber driver who told us the feature worked for him last weekend, but not since then.
We stopped by USC’s campus to speak with those who might use the feature, while it was welcomed by many, there were students who had not heard of it and were worried about some unintended consequences of the change.
“I think it’s a really good idea in theory. In practice, I’m not so sure. I can imagine that if an underage person were to say ‘oh my only option is to go hang out with some cops, who might you know, know I’m underage, or I could walk home even, or take a Lyft,” USC student Sara Slaughter said.
“I feel like it’s a short-term solution that obviously hasn’t been given a whole lot of thought to it. The lighted signs, the license plate on the front of the car. These aren’t going to help your intoxicated student who has been overserved, who is underage. It’s not going to help them,” McGuinness said.
Uber officials say since the app feature is new, it is still being modified as are the times when it would be available. Uber states the feature had been in operation at midnight Thursday-Saturday nights.
They do not know why the app failed to send our crew and others to Santee Avenue on Saturday night, but are looking into the issue.
They add the feature will not be available again, until the fall semester, once the school year has started.
Since Samantha’s death, Uber safety legislation has been based by the house and is now in the Senate.
The bill was amended to instead of illuminated signage, require drivers to show their license tag numbers on a sign on the front of their vehicles.
Uber requested the change, saying riders are sent the tag number of their ride.
Uber says it would be nearly impossible for a fake driver to duplicate it, unlike the lighted company signs that are for sale online.
Representative Seth Rose (D-Richland), with Representative Micah Caskey (R-Lexington), filed the legislation in the house.
Rose says he is disappointed with the Senate’s change to the bill but adds he is proud they are moving the issue of safety forward.
"Yes that is still better than what we currently have, and I support that, but to me, I still don’t think it’s as good as what the house passed,” Rose said. “Obviously and industry [Uber] wants to spend as little money as possible and to be as profitable as possible. To me, I know illuminated signage with beacon technology is not a cheap endeavor. It’s being used elsewhere with success. When I think about: what is the most important step in the verification process that a car may be your rideshare? To me particularly, at night time, having an illuminated sign that is from the company that is not from one of these counterfeit things that are out on the internet with the beacon technology, matching the color on your phone to the color on the light on the vehicle.”
Senator Thomas McElveen (D-Sumter, Kershaw, Lee), who has worked on the Senate’s version of the bill, says it could be up for vote as early as Tuesday.