Uber and Lyft, the top two competitors in big tech’s rideshare industry, are facing the public’s anger following countless incidents of sexual assault which have been under-addressed. The stories appear all the same. Customers order their car, barely vetted drivers pick them up, details are occasionally exchanged. Rachel Maier, a new outspoken survivor of such corporate unaccountability, shows the issue remains an untouched predatory trend.
Maier, 35, told The Daily Beast her experience of when her own Uber began staring at her, continued to ask inappropriate questions and remained outside her apartment harassing her with sexual invitations in exchange for a “free ride”. When she went outside, the man started chasing her away from her apartment as she bolted into the nearest coffee shop. Maier showed the site emails proving that after she ordered a Lyft, she submitted a report informing Uber their driver was a potential predatory.
After two years, the company didn’t make a peep about disciplinary action. All she received was a bonus payment for her negative experience. The identity of the driver was not released by the Uber platform, which currently has a market share of $120 billion. “I don’t think they really care,” Maier told the Daily Beast. “I think they try to minimize things like this to keep you coming back, and maybe they think a $5 credit is enough… They clearly did not feel this had the same level of urgency or danger that I thought it did.”
This doesn’t exonerate Lyft as the preferred brand of the market, as exposed by Hollywood actress and comedian Anna Gillcrist. In a Twitter thread posted earlier this month, the performer detailed how her own driver began similar behaviour like pestering for her personal information — such as her home address and relationship status — until she had to pry the locks open when she attempted to leave. What was the compensation for this encounter, which could have put her life and sexual liberty at risk? A simple $5 credit towards her ride — a tiny drop among their massive sea of $25 billion in market share.
“I want more than a stupid $5 credit,” Gillcrist wrote in a tweet. “Your driver put me in a scenario in which I thought I might be kidnapped, raped, or even killed. That pathetic attempt to mask a serious issue is insulting to me and women everywhere who have to deal with this shit on a regular basis.” It was only after her posts reach around 16,000 likes and featured by The Daily Beast that Lyft informed her the driver was terminated. Lyft has not apologised for the abysmal credit she received, though gave the website the standard PR response about how they found the incident “deeply disturbing”.
There are no official statistics the number of assaults, harassments, kidnappings and murders conducted through rideshares, hindered by the reporting errors of police departments and big tech giants playing catch-up, a 2018 report from CNN found there have been over 103 Uber drivers and 18 Lyft drivers accused of abusive behaviour last year alone.
While the brands continue to claim their background checks are unparalleled, we’re faced with grave cases such as Samantha Josephson, the 21-year-old college student who was stabbed to death just last week after men posing as Uber drivers to kidnap and assault women — which they acknowledge in their public statements. “Safety is Lyft’s top priority and there is no place for harassment of any sort in our community,” the company told the publication. “As soon as we were made aware of this incident, we deactivated the driver from the Lyft platform. We have also reached out to the rider to offer our support.”
This, however, appears to be a lie.
In emails provided by Emily Lake, a Stanford University student, Lyft was unable to provide their sexual harassment policies after she issued two claims of drivers asking for her phone number. The exchanges reportedly show Lyft apologising for her “less than stellar experiences”, though no policy on sexual harassment was cited. “They used a few buzz words. They said ‘We’re hearing you,’ and it didn’t feel at the time at all like they actually cared,” Lake said, unwilling to be turned away for a pathetic $5 bribe. “ I would still like an answer to what training or what explicit information is given to new drivers who sign up.”
This is likely due to the websites having no actual sexual harassment policies. As scoured by journalist Emily Shugerman, Uber is pretty clear when it comes to their anti-discrimination and service animals protections, but no trace of the words “sexual harassment” could be found. It does tell users and drivers they must “respect each other” and “give riders and drivers some personal space” to use their service, though what this could mean is unclear.
Lyft, however, doesn’t even make their elusive policies public. Shugerman only received their guidelines — such as “drivers are not to force conversation” or “ask riders for their contact information” — when a substantial news publication like The Daily Beast came knocking around for answers. If you’re a low-key user like Lake, good luck trying to get the attention of big tech and their safety teams. Even still, these policies only imply such protections. “Keeping distance” could mean harassment as it easily could for literal seating space and conversations.
Maier, ever the curious bee, decided to scour through the list of Uber drivers to find her stalker. With almost no surprise, the driver’s profile remained active and reportedly even has a rating of 4.9 stars. Uber, it seems, just couldn’t manage to let go of their star stalker with such a lovely reputation (at least on paper). “Where is the transparency?” Maier asked. “They’ll tell you how many late-night trips [a driver] has taken or if he has a clean car, but they won’t tell you how many people felt creeped out by him. You’re putting your safety in someone else’s hands and you don’t have the data to make that assessment.”
What can be done? According to The New York Times, South Carolina lawmakers have recently proposed a law requiring all ride-share drivers to display a lighted sign from their company. This particular law is set to be named after Josephson following her murder. Activists for the University of South Carolina have also started a new campaign called “What’s my name?”, urging drivers to say their customer’s details and vice versa before a ride takes place. Speaking from my Uber experiences, Australian drivers already conduct such practice. It’s just polite, let alone safety conscious as to avoid imposters.
American servicers should also be required to adopt these same behaviours, through new policies, laws or otherwise. To their credit, both Uber and Lyft have ended practices which force both customers and drivers to settle their settle sexual harassment claims via forced arbitration — restricting their right to take a case to court — but isn’t this just the bare minimum? Shouldn’t users demand better of these big tech institutions? Shouldn’t users demand more thorough data records, expanded background checks, more transparent procedures, info-sharing measures to prevent bad drivers hoping to a different platform and at the very least better compensation than a $5 tip for a quote “bad experience” rife with potential rapes and murders?
“I just hope that increasingly these stories contribute to some kind of public reckoning for us to say, ‘Wait a second, we should not trust these companies’,” said Katie Wells, a postdoctoral member of Georgetown University studying rideshare assault trends. “They may be good at making an app, but are they good at making decisions about public safety? I don’t know.”
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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