When asked which ridesharing service provides the safest form of transportation, most people don’t know the answer — and beyond tapping the app to find a ride home, never give it a second thought. Recent studies and reports on this topic, however, have concluded there is no evidence to support a key difference in passenger safety between an Uber or Lyft or a taxi.
These ridesharing companies remain a hot topic for both local lawmakers and Congress due to safety and regulatory concerns.
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Reports of Criminal Acts in Rideshares
In one instance, an elderly Tarrant county woman reported to police that an Uber driver raped her before dropping her off in October.
A charge of aggravated sexual assault was filed against another Uber driver, Hashem Ramezanpour. Ramezanpour is a citizen of Iran and police believe he may have fled the country. Ramezanpour picked up the women in his white 2016 Honda Civic. Instead of driving her home, he took the women to an isolated wooded area where he “viciously beat and raped her,” according to the suit.
“When Uber places unsuspecting women, such as Mrs. Doe, alone inside Hashem Ramezanpour’s vehicle, it’s like locking visitors at a zoo inside a hungry tiger’s cage,” the lawsuit reads.
The woman accuses Uber of negligence and stated in her complaint that Ramezanpour maintained a criminal and personal history that should have prohibited him from driving for the company.
In 2013, another female passenger from Washington accused her Uber driver of rape. Prosecutors did not charge him.
A San Francisco Uber driver was likewise arrested for beating his passenger in the head with a hammer in September.
Even more recently, a 26-year-old woman was allegedly assaulted and raped by an Uber driver in New Delhi, India. The attack prompted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to evaluate Uber’s background check system. Last week, Uber included a panic button to the app in India, which permits passengers to connect instantly with local law enforcement when needed.
Unique Set of Regulations
Uber says its employees are required to undergo a background check before it allows them to become a driver.
Interestingly, however, the company refused requests that would require them to conduct fingerprint background checks, which many law enforcement experts deem to be more comprehensive. Uber occasionally allows drivers with criminal records to drive for the company, as long as they have not been convicted of a felony, sexual offense, or violent crime within the last seven years.
Taxi drivers complain that background checks for private ridesharing companies are less extensive than those in place for taxi drivers. Local governments do background checks and fingerprinting for all taxi drivers, while most ridesharing companies contain their own verification system and do not require such fingerprinting as a part of their due diligence.
“People with criminal histories have been approved as drivers for these companies,” stated a business agent for the Taxi Drivers Association. “You can’t do that as a taxi in a big city.”
Recently, researchers from the Cato Policy Institute and other organizations debated on the regulations of ridesharing. Some lawmakers are striving to include companies like Uber and Lyft under the taxi regulation, but the Cato analysis claim they are not the same as a traditional taxi and therefore may justifiably require their own regulatory system.
Matthew Feeny, who wrote the Cato ridesharing policy analysis, believes the information exchange of credit card data and contact information through transportation apps is safer than taxi rides for the driver and passenger.
Statistics on rideshare company’s safety for drivers and passengers
A former customer service representative for Uber recently published screenshots revealing a database search of the words sexual assault. The results disclosed 6,160 hits in the company’s database. Furthermore, a search for the word rape resulted in 5,827 tickets.
In response, Uber conducted its own analysis and found that only five tickets containing the word “rape”and less than 170 tickets detected with the word “sexual assault” were actual incidents related to a specific Uber trip. Uber explained the contradictory results by claiming that “riders routinely misspell “rate” (fare) as “rape”, or misuse the word ‘rape’ in other contexts. For example, “you raped my wallet.” The results also included tickets from passengers who got into cars not affiliated with Uber and customers discussing unsubstantiated media reports of sexual assaults.
But the company’s credibility took another blow when it had to apologize for falsely representing its third-party customer support platform, Zendesk, by dishonestly claiming that its filters would detect any name or word that included the consecutive letters r-a-p-e.
The honest count of Uber rides that led to sexual assault is probably higher than the assumed 170, yet lower than the 6,160 results— but how many rides actually ended in assaults has left a mystery to consumers.
So, which ride-hailing app is safest? And is a traditional taxi the trusted way to go? When getting in a car with a stranger— there is always an amount of risk, so how do customers know the safest option and more importantly, are the companies doing all that they can to eliminate these risks? All these questions remain unanswered.
Ultimately, the current ridesharing process for onboarding drivers raises concerns. The companies do not use fingerprints or law enforcement to background-check their drivers.
As a result, The Taxicab and Limousine & Paratransit Association (a trade group) created the website WhosDrivingYou.org. This site publicizes criminal offenders behind the wheel and a list of incidents such as sexual assaults, kidnappings, and deaths involving ride-sharing services. The records available go back as far as July 2014.