Uber & Lyft Driver Harassment

Passengers Harassing Drivers – Uber and Lyft’s General Response — or Lack Thereof


Uber is in the news again today. After a CNN investigation, Uber has decided to stop forcing passengers who are victims of sexual assault by Uber drivers into mandatory forced binding arbitration. This means the victims claims can now be heard in a real courtroom, as opposed to a Soviet Union style kangaroo court known as the Arbitration Association of America, where Uber has systemic advantages, and rarely loses. Tony West, Uber’s Chief Legal Officer, noted, “We think it is very, very important to allow survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment the control and agency that was, frankly, stripped from them in that incident.”

We contacted Uber to ask if they will be dropping mandatory, forced, binding arbitration for other disputes involving riders or drivers. Uber’s spokesperson responded that, “few experiences deprive an individual of control more than sexual assault or sexual harassment and we want to give them a choice to restore even a small amount of that.” While expansion of this policy is not currently on the table, Uber’s spokesperson said, “we’re always reviewing our policies and will continue to do so going forward.”

While Uber’s decision is a good step in the right direction, both Uber and Lyft still have a serious problem not only with drivers harassing or assaulting passengers, but passengers harassing and assaulting drivers.

No matter what kind of public job you have, there’s an extremely good chance that you’ll deal with harassment in your work life, especially if you’re a woman. In one study, about 60 percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment at some point, and 69 percent of those women say they experienced it in their work life, meaning that a full 40 percent of women reported workplace harassment in that study. Look outside that oft-cited statistic, however, and you’ll find that many low-paying service jobs have much higher rates of harassment, with as many as 90 percent of women in the restaurant industry reporting sexual harassment. It’s something that’s awful, but which happens frequently, and the worst thing is – it’s something that women have just learned to deal with.

Much of the time, women don’t report harassment when they experience it, and if they do report it, it’s kind of anyone’s guess as to whether anything will be done about the situation. That’s one of the most important aspects of workplace harassment, and it’s why Lyft and Uber are consistently under such scrutiny about how they address the issue during their rides. There are endless stories that female drivers have shared about rideshare harassment, and it’s awful — but the issue is, it’s constant.

Of course, Uber and Lyft have official stances that condemn sexual assault. Uber even has a page on their website about how they’re working to stop sexual assault in the rideshare industry, and Lyft keeps their PR just as clean, with a page on safety and how they attempt to stop these assaults before they happen. If you’re just looking at the official statements, it seems pretty good. After all, they’re doing what they can to keep their passengers safe, right?

Or maybe not. With all the harassment claims, an important pattern has emerged, and it’s the same pattern that has emerged in every other workplace. Uber and Lyft just don’t take these accusations seriously, and many people have come away from reporting harassment extremely let-down by their experience. Despite their claims of taking accusations of sexual assault seriously, Uber and Lyft just haven’t, leaving both passengers and drivers with the feeling that these rideshares just don’t care about them. Add that to the fact that the actual management tends to be pretty sexist, and it’s clear they’re not exactly setting things up to be great for their company or their customers.

So, what’s really going on? What’s the best way to stop sexual assault? Read on to get the full picture of harassment in the rideshare industry, and how to stop it — both on our part and on the company’s.

How Frequent Is Rideshare Harassment, Really?

If you rely solely on how often headlines report on things, everyone is at constant risk of being murdered, and every celebrity is constantly in jail. That’s just how the news works; people like to read about horrible incidents, and so these stories make up a huge chunk of the overall stories. In fact, we just don’t know how frequent rideshare harassment is. The few people who have tried to understand harassment experienced on Lyft and Uber rides, both drivers and passengers, have run into a significant amount of issues. Police don’t keep records of how many assault cases are on taxis or rideshare services, and of course, harassment is routinely underreported, meaning that there’s no real way of judging its frequency. Who’s Driving You keeps a list of reported harassment and assault cases, but they’re very clear on their mission — to promote taxis.

Therefore, we really only have anecdotal evidence when it comes to understanding rideshare assault cases. Uber states that less than 170 customer service tickets reported any kind of assault, but of course, they’re in the business of making their company look good. Especially with their fairly terrible track record, it’s hard to take their claims at face value. They also rightly mention that some users go directly to the police with their concerns, circumventing their complaints system entirely. In addition, they state they’ve contacted everyone who submitted a complaint directly referencing experiencing harassment — though, with all of the anecdotal evidence regarding their response rate, it’s hard to take that at face value either.

The other thing to take into account is the rates of harassment or assault between rideshares and taxis. Despite what many people would think from just headlines, the only investigations that have existed — which, to be fair, are few and far between — have turned up a similar rate of assault between rideshares and for-hire rides. One, conducted by the city of Austin regarding a few months’ time, showed five allegations of assault against Uber drivers, two against Lyft drivers, and three against taxicab drivers.

Regardless of the comparison between Uber, Lyft, and taxis, however, there are still an unacceptable amount of allegations — enough for a class action lawsuit. Whether this should also be happening for taxis is something that nobody seems to have enough information for, but clearly, there’s a problem. People are angry, and it shows in the dozens of blog posts, articles, and opinion pieces about it.

Passengers harassing Lyft and Uber drivers

What Are Lyft and Uber Doing About It?

So then comes the big question: how do Lyft and Uber respond to these complaints? Again, just looking at their PR, they seem to be responding well. After public allegations of sexism at Uber’s headquarters, they responded with an “urgent investigation,” instructing their human resources department to look into these allegations and hopefully fix them. However, since this comes after a public allegation (something which easily damages Uber’s reputation, especially considering that the specific incident directly followed a #DeleteUber campaign), it comes off as sketchy to many people.

There are also endless stories about Uber and Lyft ignoring or even covering up sexual harassment claims. Whether it’s at their headquarters or just with drivers, they don’t seem to be as invested in protecting their drivers as they do in protecting their reputation. Of course, they’re businesses. Their first stake is in making themselves look good, and corporations just don’t have the general drive to care about people, especially not if it costs them money. The question for a corporation is, should they spend that money up front to prevent any problems, or will it be cheaper to just deal with problems as they come?

Although Uber tends to be in the news more frequently for these issues, Lyft is not without its own flaws. One driver specifically talks about how extremely difficult it was to even report harassment she experienced on a ride, and then how she was briefly banned from the app for the report. Lyft restored her access after she spoke out publicly, but she was left to wonder whether it really was an accident, as they stated, or if it is something that routinely happens, and women just never say anything about it.

It’s also been noted that Uber and Lyft have limitations on how much actual safety training can be given to their employees. Certain amounts of training will reclassify freelance contractors, which is what rideshare drivers are currently classified as, into employees. Uber and Lyft don’t like that — having someone be an employee means potentially having to pay them more, having to pay them benefits, and having to do an awful lot of paperwork that neither company wants to pay the money to do. So, once again, the corporation is the most important part of this equation. If it seems to come back to money, that’s probably because it does. Uber is valued at 72 billion dollars, and Lyft is valued at 11 billion. Neither company wants to pay their workers more, and for these companies, it seems like if that means their freelance contractors are less safe, so be it.

What Can We Do to Combat It?

Obviously, changing the system entirely is the best way to make people safer. In the class action lawsuit filed against Uber, the plaintiffs are hoping to make Uber require in-person screening, implement fingerprint-based background checks, and hire investigators to look into assault and harassment complaints. The many women who have spoken up about being harassed on the job also tend toward asking Uber and Lyft to put more time into their responses to harassment. By simply creating a task force whose entire job is to respond to harassment and assault allegations, rather than sending the same couple of form letters over and over again, Uber and Lyft can not only make both drivers and passengers feel safer, but actually make them safer in a tangible way.

Of course, the barrier there has to do with the fact that it will cost money for them to do so. Many drivers and riders prefer to go directly to the police, or go to the police as they’re waiting on Lyft and Uber to reply to them. Lyft and Uber are just going to have to decide — is it worth the money to avoid more assaults? The answer may seem obvious to the average person, but apparently it isn’t to Uber and Lyft, yet.

Female Uber driver on way to passenger.

Where Are the Women of the Uber and Lyft World?

Ridesharing services don’t seem like they should suffer unduly from rampant sexism, and yet when you look into it, it’s actually easy to find a startling amount of misogyny permeating Uber and, to a lesser extent, Lyft. Ridesharing apps have been an amazing invention, and there are many drivers and riders who rely very heavily on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its problems. As with so many other industries, there are many ways that misogyny has crept into the Uber and Lyft world.

Interestingly, only 14 percent of Uber drivers are women, which is higher than the average percentage of female taxi drivers, but lower than Lyft, which is at about 30 percent. Certain things that ridesharing has improved over traditional taxis, such as the ability to track rides and accept payment in a non-cash manner, has definitely increased safety. But feeling “safer” doesn’t necessarily mean that women feel “safe.” The problem is, those perceptions aren’t always able to be completely disproved.

It’s extremely common for women to be more perceptive to potential danger, even if the situation turns out to be okay. As part of a group that has a 70 percent chance of experiencing violence from men at some point in their lives, it makes sense that women would be more attuned to danger, and also more worried about being caught in a dangerous situation. Honestly, it’s not completely ridiculous for women to be worried about the safety of being a rideshare driver. Below is an explanation of why women may feel less safe in the rideshare business and what can be done to fix it.

What Is Safety?

“Safety” is often conceptualized as the idea of avoiding being physically injured as a driver. Certainly, that’s an important part of being safe on the job, and it’s an issue that can affect male rideshare drivers as much as female ones. Being a cab driver is one of the ten most dangerous jobs in the United States. Though homicide rates are still extremely low, and ridesharing services have found ways around many of the most pressing safety issues that drivers face, it’s understandable to be concerned about that aspect of staying safe. When it comes to physical injury, it’s also common to worry about being struck by other drivers or getting in an accident, both of which are general risks for injury on a day-to-day driving basis, even if you don’t have passengers in the car.

Lyft driver picking up passenger.

Many of the Uber and Lyft safety tips focus on this kind of safety, attempting to help drivers understand how to drive without getting in an accident, as well as how to keep some space between the driver and the passenger, to reduce potential conflict. In fact, of the seven safety tips Uber gives its drivers on its website, four are with regards to avoiding accidents or staying safe in the case of an accident. Only two vaguely reference proactively keeping the peace with your riders, and one explains how to report riders after the fact, if necessary. These are definitely important safety tips, and ones that all riders should keep in mind, but the truth is, female drivers face different challenges when it comes to safety, and it’s not being addressed as well as it should be.

For women, “safety” includes things like being hit on, being touched inappropriately, and even being literally stalked by men. Though simply being flirted with in a situation where you can’t walk away can be an annoyance, many women are forced to see it as a potential danger as well, because they have no idea how volatile the man talking to them is. Turning down a man who clearly seems insistent on getting your number, no matter how polite you are and what excuse you give, could become violent with absolutely no warning, transforming into a severe safety concern within seconds. While physical safety is extremely important, there are behaviors men often exhibit toward women that, while not physically violent on the surface, can easily develop into something dangerous. Many women find the prospect of being alone in a car with a male passenger daunting, and that’s part of the reason many women don’t want to drive for rideshare services

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So, How Can We Fix It?

The issue at hand, obviously, isn’t that women just don’t like driving. After all, HopSkipDrive, a startup that helps harried parents transport their kids to and from appointments and outings, boasts a driver base that’s nearly 100 percent women. Rather, it seems like the issue is split between women who have had bad experiences with Uber or Lyft’s responses to assault, and women who hear these horror stories and decide that they would be better off not putting themselves in that position.

Certainly, there are a number of women who have had previous bad experiences with Uber and have determined never to drive for them again, even if they do decide to use other rideshare services like Lyft. One particular example, which made multiple headlines, was that of an anonymous alleged assault victim who received multiple form letters from Uber after contacting them regarding the incident; in a statement to Forbes, she stated that she was deeply disappointed in the handling of her case, and she never wanted to work for Uber again. A specific anonymous Arizona driver said that she has had unwanted advances “about five times in about a thousand rides,” and, despite the fact that she personally has decided to continue driving for Uber, she believes that every woman is going to have to face that at some point. It’s extremely scary to be confronted with these stories and still make the decision to do that sort of work.

One of the big things that has to change is ridesharing itself. This has already happened in some ways; long ago, drivers could see Lyft passengers’ numbers, leading to some creepy, uncomfortable situations, but that has changed. However, both Uber and Lyft need to make some big changes in how they react to claims of harassment, because right now, their track record isn’t good. Only responding to harassment reports with a phone call after a media outlet releases the story looks bad, and warns women away from the company.

Another thing that needs to change is the companies’ opinions toward women. Lyft has more than twice the percentage of female drivers, and some of that is likely due to the fact that Uber’s official stance on women isn’t exactly rosy. Back in 2014, Uber launched a blatantly sexist promotion called Avions de Chasse, named after a colloquial French term used to describe a beautiful woman, where they effectively advertised the idea of being picked up and driven around for 20 minutes by a model. Travis Kalanick, the prior CEO of Uber, was also well-known for being extremely sexist, which has understandably driven many female riders away from the company.

Uber driver picking up passenger.

If Uber, and to a slightly lesser extent, Lyft, are legitimately interested in making sure that they recruit more women to drive, they need to actively reach out and demonstrate that they take issues with harassment seriously. It’s not just good PR, either; it’s good business sense, as women have been shown to be substantially safer drivers than men. But as long as these horror stories, and Uber and Lyft’s subpar reactions to them, are big news, it’s not going to attract female drivers.

So, Is It Safe to Be a Female Lyft or Uber Driver?

While women who driver for Uber and Lyft definitely have more horror stories regarding their passengers, and tend to also have the unique experience of being resigned to it as a reality, many of them do continue to drive. These women are still driving for Uber or Lyft after having experiences with sexism or harassment, because they don’t feel like the overall risks outweigh the benefits, and because it’s a job that pay money. Though there are risks, many drivers say that the dangers they experience are “nothing that would scare me into not driving again,” as a Los Angeles Uber driver stated. For many women, it’s the perception, and not necessarily the actual reality, that stops them from driving for Uber or Lyft.

While there are certainly dangers in driving for Uber or Lyft, it’s an overhyped myth to say it’s so dangerous that you’re at severe risk of being injured or assaulted if you Drive With Lyft or Uber. Even some of the more sketchy incidents can turn out to be okay; sometimes, just picking up drunk guys can end better than you’d be worried about. Most of the time, it’s smooth sailing, and even the women who do experience unwanted harassment usually don’t have it end up escalating to physical violence. You should take steps to ensure your safety, and it’s likely that you should be a little more cautious than men would. However, if you want to sign up and earn some extra cash, don’t let anyone stop you — Uber and Lyft are both options that you can and should consider pursuing.

driver safety on Uber or Lyft

How To Stay Safe While Driving for Lyft or Uber

There are all kinds of tips out there about how to ensure that Uber and Lyft passengers stay safe. Discussions surrounding rideshare safety seem to almost exclusively focus on ensuring that the people calling for rides stay safe. This is definitely important. As awful as it is, assaults on passengers do happen, and it’s important to make sure that riders get to their destinations safely. However, it almost seems as though people forget about the equally important half of the equation — keeping drivers safe as well.

Driving Uber or Lyft is generally perfectly safe. However, lots of drivers have at least one story involving harassment by an Uber or Lyft passenger. While many strides have been made in the taxi industry over the last few decades to ensure that drivers are kept as safe as possible, Uber and Lyft drivers don’t have some of the security measures that cabs do. Partitions in cabs, for example, are required in many cities, but are not necessary to Drive With Lyft or Uber.

Here are some of the easiest ways to ensure that you stay safe while driving for Lyft or uber.

Don’t Drive Unsafely Or In Places You Feel Unsafe

Obviously, you want to get as many rides done in the most efficient manner possible. However, it’s always more important to keep yourself safe, and you shouldn’t push yourself into potentially unsafe situations just to chase a little bit of a bonus. For example, it doesn’t really pay to rush and drive like a maniac when you’re in downtown during rush hour. Doing that usually just wastes gas and makes for an uncomfortable ride for the passenger. Also, you increase the risk of getting in an accident.

You can’t really control where the next ride is going to take you. However, keep aware of your surroundings. If a ride takes you into an area where your feel uneasy, simply use the last ride setting on either the Lyft or Uber app, and then drive out of the area when the ride is done. As you probably know, one of the keys to driving Uber or Lyft is to not drive around unnecessarily. So, if you want to pull over to wait for a ride request to come in, try to do so in a well lit area.

If you’re driving in a city where you’ve lived for a good period of time, you likely know where the city tends to be more and less safe. If not, do a bit of research before hitting the road.

Think of the Time

Even the nicest cities can often get a little bit dangerous after midnight. These issues often get compounded with the date; New Year’s Eve is one of the most dangerous nights of the year, and Friday and Saturday nights are more likely to be dangerous than 11pm on a Wednesday. Staying safe often means thinking of the date, the time of day, and anything important that has happened recently in your area. If a big football game with lots of heightened emotions is going to happen later, it’s likely a good idea to just sign off for the night before then, especially if your town’s team loses.

On an everyday level, there are generally some overarching tips that can be helpful for organizing your drive times. Both the morning and afternoon rush hours are often great times to pick up passengers that are much less likely to be a danger. The hours right around a traditional nine-to-five work day are a great time to pick up people who are on their way to work at the same time as everyone else, so there will be plenty of others around you. The timing between the two also tends to be pretty safe; it’s less likely for a dangerous incident to occur in broad daylight. If you’re really concerned about your safety, it’s likely a good idea to start no earlier than about 6am and end no later than about 7pm.

Obviously, at the end of the day, you know your city, and you can always do research on the city by yourself. If the drunks start coming out around 10pm in your area, just avoid driving after then. If you know that there are certain regional holidays where people love to go out and get drunk, avoid the streets during those days. Making an extra couple of dollars is not worth the worry you’ll feel during unsafe conditions, and it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution when it comes to your personal safety.

Consider Forming A Driver Safety Network

Small groups of drivers around the country have beginning forming security networks, usually using a group chat service. Basically, you have a number of drivers join a group in Google Hangouts, WeChat or another messaging service. Then, when you go out driving, you simply keep the chat window in the background. The idea is that if you have around ten or more drivers in a group, there will usually be someone else driving while you are. That way, you have someone you can send a message, or broadcast your location to, if necessary.

Rely on the App

Whether you’re using Uber or Lyft, there are a few features of the app that are there specifically to ensure that you get your passengers to and from their destinations safely. These companies want to keep you safe, but it’s not altruism. It’s more that neither Uber or Lyft want another lawsuit on their hands!

The first bit of help the app can give you comes in the form of passenger ratings. When you get a notification with a prospective passenger, the app will also give you that passenger’s rating — a cumulative measure of the ratings they’ve been given across other drivers they’ve been transported by. Like your driver rating, that passenger rating will go down if they’re rude, mean, obnoxious, or otherwise unsafe. If a passenger’s rating drops particularly low, the company will likely take action, but it’s a good idea to take the rating into account when you’re deciding whether or not to accept the ride. You want to accept as many rides as possible, but if you’re debating whether to accept a passenger with a 4.3 rating —  it’s just a good idea to say no. You don’t want to put yourself into a situation that could have easily been avoided. If someone’s pulling a 4.3, the ride is likely to be unpleasant.

Another thing the app allows you to do is cancel rides. Though you of course want to avoid canceling rides if at all possible, you always have the right to cancel if you pull up to the pick-up spot and you feel unsafe. Whether that’s because the person is not who they described themselves to be, they have a weapon or menacing item, or they’re engaging in behavior that makes you uncomfortable, you’re never forced to let someone into your car. Upon canceling a ride, make sure you explain why the ride was canceled. If the rider was misrepresenting themselves by doing something such as claiming to be a completely different person, it may be cause for Uber or Lyft to take action against that passenger and ensure they do not harm anyone else. However, keep in mind, Uber & Lyft will not suspend you for a low acceptance rate, but they will for a high cancel rate.

Make Sure People Know Where You Are

When you’re going to be in a situation that has every chance to turn dangerous, it’s wise to make sure you’ve informed others. If you disappear while doing your daily Uber driving, you want to make sure that someone will notice and try to get ahold of you. For some people, this just entails texting someone when you get home, while for more safety-forward people, it may mean live-sharing your location with someone you trust throughout all of your work hours. There are also apps that can do a similar thing.

Getting people involved may also mean getting Lyft or Uber involved if something does go wrong. Going along with the above point, you should always contact the company’s support if there is a serious issue. Whether you’re verbally or physically threatened, someone makes a threat against themselves or others, or something equally dangerous happens, the rideshare company needs to know. Contact the company, contact any relevant authorities, and make sure that the people you love know about it too. There’s nothing wrong with covering all your bases; when it comes to your personal safety, you can’t be too careful.

Staying Safe is Important, Not Impossible

Every time an accident happens with a business or profession that’s in the news recently, it gets a substantial amount of media attention. This can lead to people thinking it’s much more dangerous than it actually is, and subsequently getting more worried about their own safety. There are definitely safety concerns that go along with being an Uber or Lyft driver, but it’s something that you can guard against on your own, if you know what you’re doing. By paying attention to when and where you’re driving, using your app’s safety features as they’re intended to be used, and keeping in contact with the people that know you, you’ll be able to make the most of your rideshare experience, while also keeping yourself safe.


Uber driver after collecting his signup bonus.

Did Uber fire an engineer for reporting sexual harassment?

According to a complaint filed in September with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the answer is yes. A former worker claims he was fired for sticking up for other employees who were experiencing sexual harassment at the hands of a male supervisor.

The former employee stated that he raised the issue with Uber’s HR department several times, but the department didn’t investigate the allegations. Instead, he said he was told: “We get a lot of phone calls from employees that we don’t always act on.”

The employee claims he was subject to a retaliatory investigation and fired in March, 2016. The California agency reviewed and gave the employee permission to file a private suit.

Uber employee fired for reporting sex harassment?

Source: Reveal News

Uber Sign Up Bonus Driver

Uber CTO and board member may be found liable in sex harassment investigation.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder’s report on sexual harassment at Uber is due at the end of the month. It was supposed to be released at the beginning of May but was delayed.

A number of Uber executives have been under the microscope in the investigation, including Uber CTO Thuan Pham and former Head of Operations and current board member Ryan Graves.

When the report is finished, Mr. Holder will present it to the CEO and the board, along with recommendations for what the company should do to rectify an obviously sexist work environment.

The big question then is whether Uber’s board will actually implement the recommendations. Given Uber’s history, what are the odds of that happening?

Source: Recode