by Julie JAMMOT
Ridesharing leader Uber, under fire around the world for its safety record, said it had tallied nearly 6,000 sexual assaults in the United States over the past couple of years.
That included more than 450 cases of rape, according to Uber’s first public report into the issue Thursday, which counts attacks by both passengers and drivers over 2017-18.
It also revealed 19 fatal assaults related to the company over the two-year period, when it averaged more than 3.1 million trips each day in the United States.
Sexual assaults were reported on 0.00002 percent of trips, Uber calculated.
“While these reports are rare, every report represents an individual who came forward to share an intensely painful experience,” it said.
“Even one report is one too many.”
Uber stressed that the figures also showed its drivers were attacked at about the same rate as passengers reporting sexual assault.
“Drivers are victims, too,” it said.
While the report is confined to Uber’s biggest market, the company faces complaints worldwide that it is doing too little to protect passengers.
In London, Uber has lost its license after transport authorities said the company had failed to fix a litany of safety issues — including at least 14,000 cases of drivers handing their permits to unlicensed friends or relatives.
Uber continues to operate in the British capital pending an appeal.
In France, the firm is under pressure from a viral campaign detailing sexual assault involving its drivers, under the hashtag #UberCestOver (Uber it’s over).
The US report classified 5,981 sexual assaults ranging from “non-consensual sexual penetration” to unwanted kissing or touching. It showed that the total number of reported assaults rose in 2018 in three of the five categories covered.
But the firm said the frequency of attacks dropped 16 percent due to a rise in overall passengers.
In 2017, a woman raped by an Uber driver in India filed a US lawsuit accusing the service of invading her privacy and defaming her character.
In September, Chinese authorities launched a security audit of ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing following a public outcry over the rape and murder of a passenger the month before.
Uber’s rival Lyft — which has sought to position itself as more socially responsible — is meanwhile facing a series of lawsuits over sexual assault or rape that allegedly occurred in vehicles affiliated with the California company.
Twenty women filed lawsuits against Lyft in San Francisco on Wednesday, following another 14 complaints filed in September.
“The bottom line is that Lyft does not take safety of their passengers seriously, and never has,” Mike Bomberger, who is representing the 34 women, told a news conference.
He recounted the story of Caroline Miller, who he said was raped by her Lyft driver after going out to celebrate her birthday.
“As a consequence of her assault, they offered her a refund of her ride,” Bomberger said.
The total number of such lawsuits is not known, but they have led Uber and Lyft to enact various measures aimed at better ensuring the safety of passengers.
A Lyft spokeswoman said the company understood that women faced “disproportionate risks” when they traveled.
“We recognize these risks, which is why we are relentless in our work to build safety into every aspect of our work,” she added.
Both ridesharing firms have made it more difficult for people to impersonate drivers, tightened controls to detect convicted criminals and added a panic button to their apps.
Bomberger said the panic button was a “joke.”
“Who can operate a smartphone when they are being sexually assaulted?” he told AFP.
Bomberger advocates the systematic recording of rides so drivers know they are being watched, better cooperation with authorities and better driver background checks.
Rideshare companies “know what features can be added that work,” the lawyer said.
“They have refused to make any changes until we started filing lawsuits.”
© Agence France-Presse