Rideshare Services in Mexico: Who is Picking the Route?

Ridesharing in Mexico May Put You on the Wrong Path

One of the perennial complaints about ride-sharing is that non-professional drivers don’t know how to efficiently navigate cities and adjust routes for traffic or other factors that get passengers to their destination safely and quickly. 

We have covered the risks of ridesharing in Mexico in our article 5 Reasons Ridesharing in Mexico is Dangerous and we mention how critical route selection is for safety.  

In cities with a higher security threat, poor route selection is more than an inconvenience, it could be devastating.  A local driver can either make a wrong turn into a dangerous neighborhood or even deliberately take a passenger into a dangerous neighborhood purely because he has a much higher risk tolerance. 

Responding to complaints, Uber updated their route software in 2014 and incorporate more complex data to try and compensate for the lack of city specific knowledge of drivers.  Ostensibly, these changes have improved the experience of passengers, but these changes are focused on convenience – not safety. 

The ability of Uber’s routing algorithm, or any ridesharing route selection, is that it relies on good data on to make informed routes. In theory, ridesharing companies can incorporate threat data and not only give the rider a convenient route, but a safe one as well.

So why can’t ride-sharing companies incorporate crime data into their routes and avoid bad neighborhoods?  Because the data doesn’t generally exist.

If you ask a local policeman in Monterrey, Mexico or São Paulo, Brazil to circle no-go areas on a map they can easily tell you based on years of experience and city knowledge what areas to avoid.  But if you were to consult actual crime statistics you would find that, for many crimes, the majority of reported incidents are typically in wealthier neighborhoods that have affluent citizens or tourists. Why?  Because poor people in bad neighborhoods in most of the World don’t call the police when they get robbed or assaulted. 

Think about this for a minute.  If your car got broken into, would you call the police?  Most likely you would, but only for insurance reasons.  You have no expectation that you will get your items back and justice will be served. So if you were living in a hypothetical city with zero benefit to reporting a crime (in fact, negative benefits considering the time suck of filling out paperwork) would you report the crime?  Most of us would not.

This is what people in neighborhoods like Tepito in Mexico City face.  Tepito is known as a high crime neighborhood in Mexico City and it is known as high crime by reputation – not by data.  For this reason, a ridesharing company has no reason not to automatically assign a route that goes through Tepito (especially if it saves precious time!). 

Further, the driver may have no idea that driving through Tepito is a bad idea regardless of what route he is assigned.  And when your business model relies on having non-professional or “gig” drivers, the likelihood that he will blindly follow a dangerous route or even ignore the route and driver directly into Tepito is massively increased. 

Years ago, people in Los Angeles would say that if your car breaks down on the Harbor Freeway you should pull over and not leave the freeway even if your car was capable of limping off an exit.  Why?  The perception of crime in the neighborhoods adjacent to the Harbor Freeway was so high that people thought getting robbed was almost inevitable.  This advice took on the qualities of an urban legend.  

While I always thought that this advice was based on paranoia, it does get me to thinking when I go to other cities about the neighborhoods that ring major highways.  The next time that you get into a rideshare, remember that there is literally nothing preventing the algorithm or driver from taking you down the most dangerous street at the most dangerous time of day or off the Harbor Freeway for that matter!