After years of outcry from riders and advocates, members of Congress have sent a letter of concern over sexual assaults to ride-hail leaders Uber and Lyft, likely thanks to a recent CNN report on the subject.
CNN reported Monday that nine members of Congress have sent a letter to the CEOs of ride-hail companies Uber, Lyft, Juno, Curb, and Via asking for details on how they train drivers, report sexual assaults and harassment, and maintain records on such instances, among other issues.
The letter, which was first reviewed by CNN, reportedly follows a recent investigation by the news company that found that at least 103 Uber drivers have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing U.S. passengers in the past four years.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley of New York, who drafted the letter with Congresswoman Lois Frankel of Florida, commented to the network, "The questions we're asking are, in many senses, common sense questions that we'd hope the ridesharing companies would already be doing, like maintaining records of driver who've been accused of sexual violence."
Regarding Congress' letter, a spokesperson for Lyft commented by email, "This is an incredibly important issue, and we look forward to responding to the letter sent to us this morning. Since Lyft’s founding, we have developed safety features for ridesharing ... [including] professionally administered background checks, in-app photos of drivers and their vehicles, real-time ride tracking, 24/7 support, the ability to share your ETA, and more."
A spokeswoman for Uber said the company plans to respond to the letter, and cited "recent improvements including an emergency button, measures to strengthen its background check process, and a commitment to do a safety transparency report including the number of sexual assaults occurring on the platform."
Indian Uber Cabs General Manager for Delhi Gagan Bhatia (R) meets with the Chairperson of the Delhi Woman Commission Barkha Shukla Singh in New Delhi on December 9, 2014. That year, Delhi's government banned Uber from operating in the Indian capital after a young executive accused one of its drivers, who had previously been accused of assault, of raping her.
Among other things, the letter asks companies if they maintain records on drivers who have been accused of sexual violence (they do, at least to some degree), and if companies make that information public (broadly, they don't).
Given that the apps' freelance, frequently underpaid drivers often drive for multiple platforms, the letter also asks whether companies have protocols sorted out for alerting other companies if one of their drivers is reported for harassment or discrimination.
According to CNN, its analysis was based on "an in-depth review of police reports, federal court records, and county court databases for 20 major U.S. cities."
It found that at least 31 Uber drivers have been convicted for crimes "ranging from forcible touching and false imprisonment to rape" among the 103 accused drivers it counted, while "dozens" of criminal and civil cases are still pending. CNN also reported that drivers for Lyft had been accused of sexual assault or abuse 18 times in the past four years.
For those who follow the areas of sexual assault and/or ride-hail companies, the fact that Uber and its siblings have failed to protect riders in the U.S. and abroad was already well known. In general, the industry has often operated along the lines of "act first, think later," including when it's come to protecting riders and drivers. As I wrote earlier this year,
Regulators have questioned whether it's a public nuisance, or clogging our streets, or has mishandled breaches of user data, or failed to protect and perform sufficient background checks on its drivers, a (proportionately tiny) number of whom later committed rape or murder. Last year, Uber [also] repeatedly "trended" in the U.S. for its reported mistreatment of women, ranging from ignoring and trying to undermine sexual assault victims to creating a widespread, toxic corporate culture.
As Uber and others continue trying to control the damage from earlier missteps while also fiercely expanding their operations around the globe, hopefully, lawmakers and company leaders will decide together that the time is right for these assaults -- whether on riders or drivers -- to finally end.