“My shift ends in about an hour. I stop work at 10 pm,” said Daniel my Uber driver in Tijuana. “It’s not drunks that concern me, it's the crime.”
I’m a frequent Uber client and I usually have casual conversations with my drivers. My go-to questions are how they are doing and how much longer they plan on working.
“I am in a WhatsApp group of Uber drivers,” continued Daniel. “Like a week ago, one of my partners picked up a passenger, an Uber cash client. He drove him far, some place near La Presa, and there he got ambushed by a white truck. They stole his car, took his phone and his money, stripped him of his clothes, and left him on a dark street.”
An Uber driver was killed by two gunshots to the neck and chest on March 30th at around 11:15 pm, newspaper Zeta reported. José Humberto Félix Méndoza, the young driver of 28 years of age, had been working for Uber only for three days. He picked up two American tourists in front of Papas & Beer in Rosarito and was on their way to the luxury condos Club Marena where the tourists were staying, when a car approached them and started shooting. The passengers ducked and were unharmed.
“Just picked up the client, dropping him off nearby,” Vicente, another of my drivers got on the radio as soon as I got in the car. “I'm talking to my Uber partners; it’s dangerous out there. We all follow each other on GPS and keep in constant touch. I am usually in Rosarito, where it's safer. I try not to drive in downtown Tijuana, much less at night.”
It was the first time I saw an Uber driver communicate on a radio. Despite being early in the afternoon, Vicente seemed jumpy. Ironically, he felt safer in Rosarito where the Uber driver was murdered, than downtown Tijuana.
“Before picking you up,” continued Vicente. “I had to deny a customer because he had a five-star rating. We are suspicious of the five-star customers, it means that the account is new and potentially dangerous. You have 4.8 stars, another driver probably gave you a low rating just so you don't have a perfect 5.”
“We don't know where the person we pick up is going to, we don't know if they are paying cash or with a cloned card. The problem is that if we deny more than three customers in a row, Uber punishes us and we are not able to work for an hour or more.”
Since the beginning of 2017, there has been registered over 90 assaults, robberies, gun attacks, physical aggressions, and sexual assaults against both drivers and passengers. According to Tijuana deputy attorney general Jorge Álvarez Mendoza, the rise of Uber-related crime started when the application started to offer the cash payment option.
The minimum charge for an Uber in Tijuana is 26.50 pesos (less than $1.50 USD). Besides crime, Uber drivers have to deal with aggressive taxi drivers, threats for operating illegally, credit card or other scams, competition from new apps (like Cabify; there is no Lyft in Tijuana yet), long hours, and unpleasant customers.