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A new investigation by CNN has found that 103 Uber drivers have been accused of sexual assault or abuse in the past four years.
In an analysis of police reports, federal court records and county court databases in 20 major US cities, CNN found those 103 drivers have been arrested, are wanted by police or have been named in lawsuits regarding the incidents. There are no publicly available statistics on sexual assault incidents by Uber drivers or those from other ride-sharing companies.
Of the 103 drivers, at least 31 have been charged with either rape, forcible touching or false imprisonment. Dozens of other cases are currently pending, according to CNN.
Uber has built a brand around being a “safe ride home,” especially if passengers have been drinking. The company set up a partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which includes a “designated rider” component that encourages passengers to hail an Uber instead of driving while intoxicated. Uber even ran a promotion in Toronto that offered free rides to any passenger who took a breathalyzer test. Yet many of the women’s cases examined by CNN share similar details that involve taking an Uber after imbibing: They hailed an Uber after a night out having cocktails with friends and were assaulted by the driver in their intoxicated state.
“These stories are horrific and our hearts go out to the victims,” an Uber spokesperson told TPG in an email. “We worked with CNN to understand their findings and determined that Uber did 2.4 billion trips in the U.S. in that same period. But even one incident on our platform is too many which is why safety is Uber’s top priority for 2018 and beyond. We recently strengthened our safety approach with new features including an emergency button, driver screening improvements, and the addition of the former Secretary of Homeland Security to head up Uber’s Safety Advisory Board. This is just a start and we are committed to doing even more.”
In recent days, Uber has taken steps to try and combat drivers’ sexual assault. Earlier in April, the company announced stricter regulations for its drivers’ background checks, saying every driver will now have to undergo an annual background check (Lyft has also done this for years). It also announced a pilot safety measure that obscures riders’ exact pickup and drop-off locations from drivers’ logs, showing only a general area instead, which would potentially help stop the drivers from returning to drop-off sites to harass former passengers — a problem mentioned in some of the pending assault cases. Previously, riders’ addresses would be stored in drivers’ logs in the app indefinitely.
Uber has also recently made several steps to educate both its drivers and passengers on assault prevention, including deploying education materials to both parties through its app.
Drivers’ sexual assault and abuse is not a problem exclusive to Uber. CNN’s analysis found that rival ride-sharing company Lyft also had 18 cases of drivers accused of sexual assault in the past four years, a time period in which Lyft has given more than 500 million rides. The scale of Uber’s operation around the globe dwarfs that of Lyft. Valued at $70 billion, Uber is the most valuable privately held startup in the world. It operates 15 million rides per day in 630 cities worldwide. In the four-year period that CNN examined the company, Uber did 2.4 billion trips in the US. Lyft operates a mere one million rides in the US and Canada each day.
“The safety of the Lyft community is our top priority,” a Lyft spokesperson told TPG in an email. “Since the beginning, we have worked hard to design policies and features that protect our community. These include professionally administered background checks for drivers, in-app photos, real-time ride tracking, a two-way rating system, a 24/7 critical response line, and a dedicated Trust and Safety team that investigates safety related concerns. When it comes to allegations of inappropriate behavior, we take that very seriously and work closely with law enforcement when appropriate. While Lyft has grown — we now give more than 1 million rides each day — this commitment to safety has not changed.”
Uber has also recently come under criticism for its forced arbitration provision in the customer agreement section of its app. That provision states that any sexual assault or abuse allegation must be tried in closed arbitration, where the proceedings would be kept private, rather than in an open court.
Fourteen women who are bringing sexual assault charges against their Uber drivers recently sent a letter to the company’s 11-member board asking them to have their class-action lawsuit tried in court.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the company is taking a hard look at this issue and it’s very important to them.
“Secret arbitration is the opposite of transparency,” the women tell the board in the letter. “Forcing female riders, as a condition of using Uber’s app, to pursue claims of sexual assault and rape in secret arbitration proceedings does not ‘make streets safer,’” they write, quoting the company’s own claim to the public that the ride-sharing app “help[s] improve access to transportation, and make[s] streets safer.”
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