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GETTING THERE: Ride-share apps handy, but can also carry risk

New ride-sharing technology is really shaking things up.

It’s slug-like, with the exception that riders pay for their trips.

The popularity of the ride-sharing apps, which allow users to find and pay for rides with their smartphones, is growing fast.

But the technology also is ruffling feathers in the taxicab industry—as expected, because those ride-sharing companies pose a big threat to their livelihood.

The taxicab industry is fighting a losing battle, though.

One of the ride-sharing companies, Uber Technologies, for example, is already in 70 cities across the globe.

And they plan on bringing their business to Richmond.

In case you missed it, Virginia last week agreed to allow Uber and Lyft Inc. to operate in Virginia, after initially barring them.

Uber already operates in Washington. You can’t use it around here just yet, but it seems inevitable that some kind of local ride-sharing service will sprout eventually.

The ride-sharing approach comes with risks, as too many have found out with Craigslist.

A recent Wall Street Journal story reported that an Uber driver was charged in D.C. with sexually assaulting a passenger.

In an agreement with the companies, according to the Richmond Times–Dispatch, Virginia has stipulated rules geared toward making the service safer—including “background checks on convictions for any felony, fraud, sexual offenses, violent crimes or registration as a sex offender.”

The agreement also requires checks into participants’ driving histories, has a zero-tolerance drug policy and includes strict insurance requirements.

It all sounds good on paper.

Would you be willing to do it?

Dear Scott: In the past few months, the light at the intersection of Plantation Drive and Warrenton Road stays green only long enough for two or three cars to get through or just one truck to turn.

This short light often causes a backup in the mornings, despite the two lanes able to turn south on U.S. 17 North.

Is there a reason that the light is so short, and could it be lengthened somehow?

—Sara Parker–Gray, Stafford

That intersection is in the U.S. 17 widening work zone, and the issue is connected to that work.

There was a permanent signal at the intersection before work started on the project, and that light allowed 10 seconds in the mornings for cars on Plantation to get through, VDOT’s Kelly Hannon said in an email.

A new, temporary signal allows 10 seconds, too, but it has a sensor on it, instead of in the pavement (utility work prevents the installation of pavement sensors, which will be done later in the project). So if cars don’t move quickly enough on the green light, the sensor will think no traffic is there and switch from the green phase sooner.

The signals along U.S. 17 are geared to keep traffic on the highway flowing, so those waiting on side roads really have to get used to shorter green lights and longer reds.

On that note, Hannon said VDOT is keeping an eye on the project’s impact on traffic out there and that the highway department will adjust the signals if needed.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436