Emily J. Sullivan
Ride share companies Uber and Lyft provide convenient commutes at the touch of an app for millions. Their rides are frequently cheaper than traditional cabs, and the multibillion dollar companies have also provided fast employment for more than 2 million drivers to date.
But all of this has apparently come with other costs.
Although Lyft and Uber share similar safety policies and procedures, they both receive hundreds of law enforcement requests such as subpoenas, court orders, search warrants and emergency requests for information related to criminal investigations.
According to data listed in Lyft’s 2017 Transparency Report, Lyft received 798 of these requests during that year.
According to the data listed in Uber’s 2017 Transparency Report, Uber received a total of 1,536 requests during that year.
California had the second highest number of requests and Florida had the first, by only a four request margin.
“Since day one Lyft has worked hard to design policies and features that protect our community including in app photos of the driver and vehicle, and details on the vehicle’s make, model, and color, as well as real-time ride tracking, digital receipts, two-way rating systems, and professionally administered criminal background checks,” said Lyft spokesperson Lauren Alexander.
One of the safety tools that both rideshare companies use is third-party background checks for drivers.
Unlike the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, they do not use fingerprint background checking.
After a push by the Taxicab industry to enforce Uber and Lyft drivers be held to the same standard and be fingerprinted, the California Public Utilities Commission decided in 2017 that the fingerprint requirement was unnecessary and could be viewed as discriminatory toward minorities.
John Boit, executive vice president of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association and spokesperson for the initiative “Who’s Driving You?”, said when Uber and Lyft came out years ago, the safety flaws were alarming from the start.
“One thing that’s so important and so simple – fingerprinting,” Boit said.
“The drivers must be fingerprinted; Uber and Lyft will not do it voluntarily and so lawmakers need to wake up and insist. They’ve made the appalling financial calculation that they are willing to have passengers be harmed as long as it doesn’t slow down their growth. That’s something that every passenger needs to understand – that somewhere in the boardroom, they made this decision.”
“For them, it’s a numbers game, it’s about growth, with, sure, some collateral damage along the way, but it’s worth it to them, sacrificing your safety and mine.”
Like cab drivers, Lyft and Uber drivers have access to your home or work address depending on your pick-up and destination location.
“When you have a human being that is in a vulnerable position, it is vital that the people responsible for their safety are fingerprinted. They have people in the car with strangers, I mean, my daughter’s preschool employees are fingerprinted. It’s an utter failure in safety,” said Boit.
Stephen Estey is a founding partner of Estey & Bomberger, LLP, a San Diego based law firm that specializes in Uber and Lyft assault cases. According to Estey the firm is currently receiving between 5 to 10 inquires a week regarding rideshare assaults.
“Uber and Lyft do very bare-minimum background checks, so these predator drivers are able to work the Friday and Saturday night shifts so they can pick up drunk girls and sexually assault them,” Estey said. “And it goes both ways, we have drivers that are experiencing assault by passengers as well.”
Although the firm is located in San Diego, they are currently handling cases statewide.
Alicia Fox who has worked as a Lyft driver in Eugene, Oregon, for two-and-a-half months, says that her trick has been rating dangerous passengers down so she doesn’t have to continue driving them.
She says that working as a Lyft driver has allowed her to spend more time with her children while increasing her income, but there have been precarious situations that left her spooked.
“I had one passenger that tried to kiss me and grabbed my body and I had to threaten to him with a taser that I bluffed and said I had on me,” Fox said. “I had another gentleman get into my car, he was angry and yelling about race and privilege and when I turned the light on, he grabbed my body and jerked me toward his side of the car. He then said he was full of love and wanted to share it, he stayed in my car for an uncomfortable amount of time.”
According to Fox, if drivers don’t report incidents within a certain amount of time, Lyft won’t do anything about it. And when she’s busy driving from passenger to passenger, taking the time to promptly report an incident means a loss of income for the driver.
“I even read that we can get disconnected for having protection like a mace or a taser – that doesn’t seem okay,” Fox said.
Both Uber and Lyft have held firm that their drivers are independent contractors and thus not considered actual employees of the company.
This arrangement helps the rideshare companies maintain control and keep their drivers from unionizing, while also helping them dodge responsibility in legal disasters, Estey explained.
Emily J. Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.