This past Friday, Uber and Lyft announced their new Industry Sharing Safety Program, a collaboration with workplace solutions company HireRight to share information on drivers who have had their accounts deactivated for serious offenses like sexual assault or murder. The program comes 18 months after 14 women sued Lyft for not doing enough to prevent sexual assault, and similar claims were lobbed at Uber.
There’s no rigorous research proving a taxi ride is any safer than a rideshare. But because Uber and Lyft created the program themselves, they were able to take their time and pick and choose who they protect. Reporting mandates, employee protections, and occupational safety requirements don’t penetrate the world of rideshares.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that employees gain no protection from the new “safety” program. According to Uber’s most current safety report, riders make up 45% of assailants, though the companies will not share the information of offending riders under the new program. Second, driver’s accounts are wrongly deactivated all the time, and drivers have to work through the same customer support services that are busy with all claims from both drivers and riders to refute it.
Erstephanie St. Juste, for example, is a Los Angeles-based driver who has had her account deactivated twice for alleged drunk driving despite staying sober for over 27 years. “If you want to get back at your driver because you don’t like the price, you don’t like that they were wearing a mask, or whatever it is, all you have to do is call up Uber and Lyft and tell them that you think the driver is drinking,” she says.
Uber deactivates drivers’ accounts immediately after several different types of claims ranging from drunk driving to sexual assault, initiating an “investigation” shortly thereafter. But at least in the case of St. Juste, the investigation wasn’t very thorough — she was never asked to take a drug or alcohol test, or even asked for her side of the story. Her account was simply deactivated for 48 hours while she was “investigated” from a company over 500 miles away, before miraculously gaining access again.
According to Uber and Lyft, employees will be able to refute serious claims that fall under the jurisdiction of the new safety program through HireRight’s existing channels. They add that only their own internal investigation process is rigorous, and that only the most serious claims will be passed along to HireRight, like murder and non-consensual touch.
Those investigations need to be very thorough, says Amy Oppenheimer, a lawyer who’s firm specializes in workplace investigations. Investigations that yield absolute certainty can take a tremendous amount of time and funding, she says, and not all employers are willing to pay for it. “Part of what enables me to do my job well is to put judgement on hold until I have all the information I need to make a finding,” she says.
If the new safety program does ultimately prevent assaults, it’s too little too late — Uber tracked nearly 6,000 sexual assault cases from 2017 to 2018, according to their annual safety report. They also don’t track how many perpetrators of sexual assault had criminal histories that pervaded a background check, for example, while Lyft doesn’t even release the number of assaults they record. That’s despite the fact that in 2018, a CNN investigation found that both companies had permitted thousands of people to drive who should be forbidden according to the platform’s policies. Additionally, though the companies eliminated forced arbitration for sexual assault cases in 2018, arbitration is still mandatory for riders in all other cases, like non-sexual assault and discrimination. Drivers can opt out of arbitration agreements in their first 30 days, but if they miss the deadline, the same rules apply.
In a statement given to CNN, Uber chief legal officer Tony West said that including rider information in the information sharing program would be “desirable.” But if we’ve learned anything about Uber and Lyft, without oversight, they’ll take their sweet time.
HireRight declined to comment.