Protection file

Uber and Lyft drivers want more protection as rising crime keeps many people off the road

Lyft driver Lamont Liner believed he was buying regular Chicago fare late last year. Instead, his passengers pulled out a pistol and stole his car and phone. He hasn’t returned driving for the app since, although rideshare companies have tried to tempt drivers with more money.

“The money is so good right now,” said the 63-year-old. “But it’s just not worth having someone point a gun to your temple.”

Rideshare companies Uber Technologies Inc.

UBER -2.32%

and Lyft Inc.

LYFT -3.07%

– who were already grappling with a driver shortage caused by Covid-19 issues – are grappling with an increase in violent crime and are implementing new safety measures and policies to try to better protect drivers still on their way. systems. Drivers are not coming back as quickly as consumers, despite big corporate bonuses and the expiration of temporary unemployment benefits for concert workers.

Overall, homicide offenses in the United States jumped more than 20% in 2020 from 2019, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Law enforcement officials say crime has continued to increase this year.

While companies have declined to share data on attacks on their drivers, data available in some cities suggests drivers are caught in a wave of carjackings, murders and other violent crimes. In Minneapolis, 494 car hijackings were reported through Nov. 11, up 279% from those reported in 2019, according to a city police spokesperson. Carpool drivers accounted for 11% of these cases. In Chicago, a police spokesperson said car hijackings through Nov. 10 were up 36% from the same period last year. In Oakland, Calif., Official data shows car hijackings through November 7 are up 85% from the same period last year and 144% from the comparable period of 2019.

In Chicago, a police spokesperson said car hijackings through Nov. 10 were up 36% from the same period last year.

Carpool and food delivery drivers have been shot and killed in Washington, DC, St. Louis, Mitchellville, Maryland, and other cities this year.

Businesses are taking action to fight rising crime, but some drivers believe they need to do more.

“This is an absolute crisis,” preventing drivers from returning to work, said Lenny Sanchez, Illinois director of the Independent Drivers Guild, a group run by drivers.

Rideshare apps have long had security measures – for example, Uber has an emergency button that connects drivers to 911 and shares their GPS coordinates with dispatchers – and they’re adding more. Lyft has similar functionality. Both companies add more.

Earlier this year, Uber and Lyft made it mandatory for passengers who use untraceable payment methods such as gift cards to upload government IDs. This summer, Uber supported a program to provide cash rewards to people with information about car hackers in and around Chicago. In the past 18 months, Lyft has doubled the size of its team that responds to law enforcement data requests.

“We are committed to doing everything possible to help keep drivers safe,” Lyft spokesperson Ashley Adams said. “Violent crime, including carjacking, is on the rise in the United States. “

Lucas Chamberlain, a 37-year-old Uber driver in San Francisco, was knocked out by a passenger in March. He needed stitches over his eye and suffered from broken teeth.


Photo:

Lucas chamberlain

Later this month, Uber plans to test a new safety feature that allows drivers and passengers to record audio while traveling.

“You will constantly see us doing more and more,” said Sachin Kansal, vice president of product management at Uber, who also oversees security. He said his team was doing “a ton of work”, especially during the recent spike in crime, to figure out how they can make drivers feel safer.

Last month, lnstacart Inc. said it issued in-app alerts to its grocery pickers about criminal or security incidents near their locations, and DoorDash Inc.

has launched an emergency hotline for its drivers.

Drivers are doing what they can to protect themselves. Some will only work during the day or pick up passengers at the airport. Others have taken to wearing bulletproof vests, Sanchez said.

Drivers say they want Uber, Lyft and others to strengthen guarantees for drivers so that they are on par with the measures available to drivers.

Drivers typically go through background checks, including criminal background screening when they register. They are often forced to take selfies at work to prove that they are the ones driving.

Passengers, on the other hand, can create accounts using fake names, as apps don’t require them to disclose their identity. Unlike drivers, they are not required to upload photos, allowing criminals to pose as passengers or abuse existing accounts.

Client background checks are used in other industries. The colocation giant Airbnb Inc.

requires U.S. travelers to upload IDs and checks their information against criminal databases and sex offender registries.

Families of drivers killed say knowing these details could mean the difference between life and death. In August 2019, Uber driver Beaudouin Tchakounte and a passenger were shot dead by a biker who used the app to hail a carpool. The biker had a criminal history dating back to 1997, according to police records, and was later convicted of the murders.

Mr Tchakounte, a father of four, could have been spared if Uber had applied the same controls it uses to filter potentially problematic drivers onto passengers, according to his family. Cassandra Porsch, a lawyer suing Uber on behalf of the family, says companies have a duty to protect their drivers, even if they are not employees under the law.

Uber asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed earlier this year, saying in its legal file that “the law simply does not recognize this standard, and there is no support for such a duty.” A judge has yet to rule on Uber’s request.

Rideshare companies say background checks are not required for other forms of transportation such as trains and planes, adding that they are heavily regulated, expensive and time-consuming.

Mr Sanchez of the Independent Drivers Guild, a former carpooling driver who has stopped driving due to health and crime concerns, said his organization wanted passengers to upload periodic selfies, as drivers do, so businesses know their accounts aren’t being misused.

This summer, Uber supported a program to provide cash rewards to people with information about car hackers in and around Chicago.

Lucas Chamberlain, a 37-year-old Uber driver in San Francisco was knocked out by a male passenger in March after asking for ID. The passenger was under 18, he said, and companies do not allow unaccompanied minors. Mr. Chamberlain stopped driving after the assault. He wants the ages of passengers to be verified and their photos visible on the app so drivers know who to unlock their cars for.

“It’s just not fair that these companies show our faces to customers and that we can’t see their faces,” he said.

Companies say they can’t force runners to upload their photos to the app.

Some drivers say businesses can be slow to respond when they ask for help. Mr. Liner, the Chicago driver, says he reached Lyft after being the victim of a carjacking to request that his driver and conductor accounts be deactivated. A Lyft rep assured him they would be, he said.

Mr. Liner says his account was not deactivated until late the next morning. Carjackers used his account to order Lyft rides overnight, according to ride receipts viewed by the Wall Street Journal. A second driver was hijacked in the process.

Lyft said it is investigating the delay in deactivating Mr Liner’s account.

Write to Preetika Rana at preetika.rana@wsj.com

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