In 2016, crimes related to ride-sharing became so common that the Los Angeles Police Department started keeping close track of them. Since then, Uber and Lyft drivers have committed more than 500 crimes. Almost 80% of these crimes remain unsolved.
Passengers or others being victimized by Uber and Lyft drivers has become so routine that several law firms in Los Angeles have started dedicating resources to represent clients in these cases. More than 100 of these crimes were of a sexual nature, and over half of them were Part 1 crimes, which include what the FBI considers more serious offenses, like murder and rape. Almost 90% of the victims in these sexual crimes were females.
Candice Klein, an attorney at Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, who represents sexual assault victims against Lyft and Uber, said that most of her clients have been young women who were intoxicated when the crime occurred. She said that Lyft and Uber have binding arbitration clauses when customers sign up to use their platforms, making cases difficult to prosecute. Usually, the underlying agreement in an arbitration clause is that parties will not sue each other, and that they will resolve disputes out of court on their own terms.
“The thing that is most frustrating to me is that Uber and Lyft think they can get away with anything they want,” she said. “I think they’ve been bullying the public at large with the way they handle their platform, and how they litigate their cases.”
A spokesperson for Uber told Annenberg Media that the company made a change to its arbitration policy last year that “gives victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment more choices.” Uber will no longer require mandatory arbitration for sexual assault and sexual harassment claims made by drivers, riders or employees.
Klein added that “the police don’t necessarily push very hard to help”, citing a case when she followed up with an officer to inquire about an arrest to get a suspect’s DNA sample. He informed her he had stopped by the suspect’s house, realized he did not live there anymore, and that the police had been trying to find him for seven months.
Robert Rivera, a detective for USC’s Department of Public safety, who previously worked for the LAPD, said that the low clearance rates for crimes involving Lyft and Uber drivers could be due to a lack of physical evidence, the absence of witnesses, the victim being impaired or unconscious during the crime and delays in reporting crimes.
“[Without] a rape kit analysis, a lot of times, those crimes will be undetermined,” he said. “So the district attorney’s office is not going to follow up on a case in an undetermined sexual assault. They’re not because they can’t win.”
“There are a lot of scandalous people out there and that's an easy job,” said Sgt. Rodney Peacock, a supervisor at USC’s Department of Public Safety and LAPD reserve officer. “They don't have to go to an interview and get the job. They can just get it because [they have a] car.”
Taylor Glassman, 25, a merchant coordinator in LA said that she had been surprised by how easy it had been to sign up to drive for Lyft.
“I thought it was going to be this huge process that I’d have to go through, and it ended up happening like that,” she said.
Glassman said she is now wary of using Lyft or Uber. She said an Uber driver had once come close to assaulting her after rear-ending her car. She said that Uber later informed her they were unable to identify the driver.
In a separate incident, she said a Lyft driver had said “inappropriate sexual things” to her, and then locked the doors when they arrived at her destination.
“My heart sank,” she said. “[I thought], oh my gosh, I’m about to die.”
She said that Lyft later apologized to her, suspended the driver’s account and gave her a $10 credit.
Lyft and Uber have both released new safety features after facing a slew of allegations of negligence in dealing with crimes committed by their drivers. On Dec. 6, Uber released a report that showed that last year, it received over 3,000 reports of sexual assaults involving drivers and passengers.
Both companies may have a long way to go before they regain some peoples’ trust.
“I don’t think they really care,” said Peacock. “I think they do as much as they can to keep people somewhat happy.”