ride sharing servicesCommuting to and from work or other places can be a hassle, especially when you live in a highly populated area like Silicon Valley with tons of other people on the road at all hours. Add in the cost of gas or the misery of trying to navigate bus or train schedules for those who don’t drive, and getting around can start to feel like a nightmare. That’s where ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft come in. Started in San Francisco, these two services are one among many now that provide rides to people in cities across the country — and even across the globe. What makes these services unique from your standard taxi? Rather than trying to hail down a ride from the street or call a dispatcher to get a car sent to you, ride-sharing services let you request a ride from your smartphone. The app uses your phone’s GPS location to match you with a driver nearby, and in many places this means you can be in the car and on your way within minutes of submitting a request. It’s convenient and often cheaper than the standard — but is it the safe alternative?

Do ride-sharing services protect their customers and drivers’ data?

The drivers for most ride-sharing services are average people like yourself. To become a driver for Lyft, for example, a person must undergo a DMV check for their car as well as a national and county background check for themselves. The draw is that people can make their own hours and work right out of their own vehicles. However, this naturally presents some potential dangers — both for drivers and passengers. Although a background check is a good policy to have, it doesn’t prevent people from using the service to take advantage of others. Uber was recently sued by the district attorneys of both Los Angeles and San Francisco for misleading customers about the safety of its service as well as ripping them off.

And these services don’t all have a great track record for protecting drivers, either. Uber announced Friday, Feb. 27 that its database had been breached and the names and driver’s license numbers of approximately 50,000 drivers were exposed. Although this breach occurred in May 2014, it was not discovered by the company until late last year — and it was not disclosed until more than two months after that. Uber has said it is notifying affected drivers and providing them with complimentary identity theft monitoring, but if this is how it handles the exposure of employee data, one has to wonder how it would handle the exposure of customer data?

What makes these services worth taking?

There are certainly a couple of advantages of taking an Uber or any other ride-sharing service over other means of transportation.

You don’t have to pull out your wallet. Not only are the costs of these services often cheaper, but the form of payment can be a safety measure in itself. Ride-sharing services don’t accept cash or credit card payments upfront. Instead, you connect your PayPal account or credit/debit card to the app, which is automatically charged once your ride has been completed. This can be especially helpful to put you at ease when you’re traveling in an unfamiliar city or an area of ill-repute.

Don’t like a driver? Let the service know! Many of these services allow riders and drivers alike to rate each other — not only does this provide the company with feedback on how its drivers are doing, but it can help protect drivers by either not matching them again with a customer that was poorly rated or blacklisting a particular rider altogether for poor behavior.

You can split the costs. In the past, sharing a cab meant either happening upon strangers going the same direction by chance or arranging with friends ahead of time. Ride-sharing services are built on the idea of multiple people getting to their destinations using a single car. Many offer features that let you split your ride with other people in the area who need one.

As with any form of transportation or new technology, there are always going to be safety issues. These services deserve scrutiny because they are new, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are doomed. Increased security for drivers and riders alike can help make Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services the best way to travel in urban areas. As a consumer, it’s always a good idea to learn how to protect yourself and make the best choices.