Warning: this story accommodates descriptions of sexual assault that some readers might discover disturbing.
For this story, final names have been omitted to defend the identities of those girls and in some circumstances, the names have been modified for privateness causes.
Tara, a former elementary faculty English trainer who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, had been driving for Uber for about two years when she had her first distressing expertise with a buyer. Late one night time, a number of years in the past, she picked up a male passenger outdoors of a bar. A couple of minutes into the experience, the person out of the blue unzipped his pants and uncovered himself to her.
Tara mentioned that she reported the passenger to Uber. The rideshare firm assured her that she wouldn’t be paired with that rider once more, however mentioned nothing about his capability to use the app sooner or later.
A number of months later, Tara was outdoors the identical bar in Charleston, ready for a surge in requests with another feminine drivers. They had been speaking, and she or he advised them what had occurred. To her shock, each girls advised her that that they had just lately picked up the identical passenger, weeks after Tara mentioned she had reported him.
each girls advised her that that they had just lately picked up the identical passenger
Tara’s story will not be unusual. In interviews with over 25 feminine rideshare drivers throughout the nation, their experiences fluctuate, from having passengers flirt with them, solicit them for intercourse, or making undesirable advances towards them. Many mentioned they’ve taken to carrying pepper spray or different defensive weapons of their autos in defiance of the app firm’s insurance policies banning such objects. All the drivers mentioned that they don’t really feel utterly protected or supported by the businesses on whose platforms they conduct their enterprise.
“It simply looks like they don’t care about our security,” mentioned one driver.
Earlier this yr, Lyft launched its first-ever security reportsd, which revealed 4,000 sexual assault claims from 2017–2019. Equally, in 2019, Uber launched its security report, which confirmed simply over 3,000 sexual assault claims from 2017–2018. (Uber hasn’t launched an replace in three years.) Round half of those claims came from drivers, who alleged that they had been victims of sexual assault from their passengers.
Over the previous couple of years, a lot of the consideration has been on passenger security, prompting Uber and Lyft to roll out extra security measures for their prospects. Each firms are currently facing multiple lawsuits from female customers who allege Uber and Lyft have failed to defend them from rape or assault.
At the moment, new drivers on each Uber and Lyft have to endure detailed background checks earlier than being approved to drive. Each drivers and prospects now have entry to an in-app panic button that routinely contacts a 911 dispatcher and shares the caller’s location.
In 2020, Uber announced plans to require all new drivers within the US and Canada to full sexual assault and misconduct coaching as part of the businesses’ partnership with RAINN, a nationwide anti-sexual assault group — an enormous step with reference to passenger security.
However many drivers say these efforts nonetheless aren’t sufficient.
“They don’t do sufficient when a driver is assaulted,” mentioned Michelle Dottin, a driver and advocate. “Security, usually, needs to be for everybody. It shouldn’t be one-sided, and the best way that these firms do it, it feels extra one-sided — they don’t actually fear as a lot about their drivers.”
“Security, usually, needs to be for everybody”
In 2019, a pregnant Lyft driver in Arizona, 39-year-old Kristina Howato, was fatally stabbed by a passenger, reigniting conversations concerning driver security. However two years later, many feminine drivers say that they don’t really feel that a lot safer.
Passengers aren’t at the moment required to full background checks or sexual misconduct coaching earlier than making an account. Regardless of making it safer for drivers, imposing these extra measures might decelerate the sign-up course of, which rideshare firms tout as a central, seamless characteristic of their service.
Because it stands, there is no such thing as a id verification wanted for passengers until they’re paying with a present card or pay as you go card. Riders can technically nonetheless use faux names or their buddy’s accounts, making them more durable to determine and observe down if a report is made in opposition to them.
Rideshare drivers are legally categorised as impartial contractors, in order that they lack the protections obtainable to common workers. The whole lot from company-provided tools reminiscent of dashboard cameras to the appropriate to collective bargaining for higher working circumstances is denied to them.
Many drivers admire the liberty and suppleness that contract work permits however turn into pissed off after they really feel unsupported by the businesses — particularly when it comes to security.
Just a few months after the primary incident occurred, Tara remembers driving a bunch of drunk males again to a golf resort in Charleston, South Carolina.
After making a number of stops, she had one man left to drop off. He was sitting within the entrance seat, she remembered, nonetheless intoxicated and nonetheless flirting together with her, as he had been for the complete experience. He observed that Tara was studying Stephen King’s “It,” which was positioned on the dashboard. She was on web page 262.
“You should be good if you happen to’re studying Stephen King,” he mentioned.
Tara ignored him and drove cautiously to his vacation spot. She waited for him to get out of the automobile. However then, in accordance to Tara, the person started making advances in direction of her. She resisted. He grabbed her keys from the ignition. She honked the automobile horn, hoping that somebody would hear, and as she reached for the automobile door, he slapped her hand. Tara froze.
Out of nowhere, the passenger’s mates reappeared and took him again to the resort. After they had been gone, Tara remembers sobbing in her automobile.
“He was very drunk, so I used to be fortunate”
“He was very drunk, so I used to be fortunate. If he hadn’t been as drunk, he would have raped me,” she mentioned, pondering again to that night time. “He made me really feel weak; I nonetheless really feel weak.”
Tara mentioned that she by no means reported it to Uber or the native police. She had made a number of studies in opposition to passengers prior to now however contends that she was left upset by the shortage of motion from each Uber and native legislation enforcement. She assumed that reporting this incident would once more quantity to nothing.
Tara says that she has an audio recording of the incident however has by no means given it to legislation enforcement or Uber.
To today, the bookmark in Stephen King’s “It” remains to be on web page 262. After what occurred, she couldn’t convey herself to end the ebook.
One of many realities of gig work is the trade-off between flexibility and safety. Many feminine drivers are moms and worth the power to set their very own schedules. However they are saying that the shortage of security measures limits the flexibleness that drew them to the work within the first place.
Selecting whether or not or not to drive at night time is a choice that many feminine drivers face. The demand is larger at night time, to allow them to earn more money, however they’re extra possible to encounter inappropriate or threatening passengers.
Round 21 p.c of Lyft drivers and 27 p.c of Uber drivers within the US are girls. Practically half of the ladies interviewed for this story mentioned that they don’t drive at night time for security causes. However for some, driving at night time is crucial so as to make a residing as there’s extra money to be made, and lots of drivers interviewed even have day jobs, so they’re solely in a position to drive at night time.
“There are additionally girls who solely decide up on the airports or in sure neighborhoods,” mentioned Moira Muntz, spokesperson for the Unbiased Drivers Guild, a driver-led advocacy group. “However that limits their revenue, as they spend much more time ready between pickups.”
Practically half of the ladies mentioned that they don’t drive at night time
The Unbiased Drivers Guild is at the moment advocating for extra passenger verification, background checks, and sponsored in-vehicle cameras, amongst different measures targeted on making circumstances safer for drivers.
Susan, 58, is a Lyft driver in Houston, Texas. She primarily drives at night time as there’s much less site visitors and better demand.
Round two years in the past, Susan mentioned that she picked up a male passenger from a membership in Houston. Through the experience, she claims that he propositioned her for intercourse and stored providing her cash for sexual favors. She declined a number of occasions and drove slightly quicker to the vacation spot. They had been proper across the nook from his home, so the incident didn’t escalate additional.
Susan mentioned that she reported this passenger, and although she couldn’t find a replica of the two-year-old report, she remembers receiving a message from Lyft saying that that they had unpaired her with this passenger.
“All they are saying is, ‘Oh, sorry that this occurred to you, we’ll be sure you by no means get a experience with him once more. And we’ll examine this.’ However we by no means know what’s gonna occur as a result of they don’t ever inform us,” she mentioned.
“He had a special title this time”
Earlier this yr, two years after she initially picked up that passenger, Susan mentioned that she accepted a experience and was driving to the passenger’s pick-up level when she obtained a message from the rider. She recalled that the message mentioned that he didn’t want a experience in any case however that as a substitute, he started providing her cash for sexual favors. Susan regarded on the deal with once more and realized that it was the identical man.
“He had a special title this time. However once I drove up, I remembered the deal with proper the place I dropped him off,” she mentioned.
Susan mentioned that she instantly canceled the experience. She continues to be pissed off at how the passenger had been in a position to make a brand new account with a special title regardless of having been reported prior to now.
“He’s in all probability nonetheless on the market doing the identical factor,” mentioned Susan.
Some feminine drivers take it upon themselves to discover methods to pre-empt passengers from doing something inappropriate or unsafe. The ways vary from placing music on to keep away from dialog to forgoing make-up and carrying dishevelled garments in order that they don’t come throughout as “too enticing.” A number of drivers even put on faux marriage ceremony rings and inform their passengers that their companions work in legislation enforcement, even when it’s unfaithful.
“Males will at all times respect different males greater than girls,” mentioned one driver.
Dashboard cameras are one other instrument that may assist a driver really feel safer. However these can price anyplace from $100–$400, typically greater than a day’s revenue.
“When a rider sees a dashcam, their conduct adjustments, it makes a distinction,” mentioned driver advocate Michelle Dottin.
Many ladies admitted to carrying some kind of weapon of their vehicles for safety, from pepper spray and wasp spray to tasers and knives — typically going in opposition to firm coverage, reminiscent of Lyft’s “No Weapons” coverage. Uber has an identical coverage, their web site states that riders and drivers are “prohibited from carrying firearms or weapons of any variety (e.g., knives, tasers) whereas utilizing the Uber apps, to the extent permitted by relevant legislation.”
A lot of the girls admitted to by no means having used the weapons they carry however defined that having them simply accessible is necessary when it comes to security, particularly contemplating the shortage of screening for riders. For a number of drivers, the chance of being deactivated is overshadowed by the significance of defending themselves from hurt.
“I simply activate the taser actual fast, and that just about calms them down”
A driver from Houston, Texas, admitted that previously, she has brandished a taser when coping with male passengers who have endured in making her really feel uncomfortable, even after declining their advances a number of occasions.
“I simply activate the taser actual fast, and that just about calms them down,” she mentioned.
Others depend on important others or relations who observe them on their telephones, which makes many drivers really feel extra protected.
Uber and Lyft have lengthy defended their security measures with regard to their drivers and passengers. When approached for remark, Jodi Kawada Web page, a spokesperson from Uber mentioned that they’re dedicated to security.
“We stay steadfast in our dedication to security,” mentioned Web page in an e-mail. “We now have pioneered new security options, processes, and insurance policies guided by specialists and gender-based violence prevention advocates.”
Web page went on to spotlight many new options and insurance policies that Uber has applied in the previous couple of years which are targeted on passenger and driver security. These embrace however aren’t restricted to having launched a 24-7 devoted survivor assist hotline, an in-app emergency 911 button in addition to academic movies, developed with RAINN, that are despatched to riders and drivers after they obtain a report of inappropriate conduct.
The spokesperson defined that Uber has just lately applied a system that forestalls folks who have been beforehand deactivated from making a brand new account by flagging fraud indicators reminiscent of comparable knowledge and data.
Final yr, Uber introduced their new rider verification system that asks some passengers for an additional degree of verification. This characteristic solely applies to passengers utilizing nameless types of cost reminiscent of Venmo or a present card.
No matter their hours, rideshare driving is usually a lonely career, and plenty of drivers collect in Fb teams to get recommendation, share tales, and meet others.
Allison, a Lyft driver in Austin, Texas, shared in one of many female-only drivers’ Fb teams in November of 2021 that she had reported a passenger for making undesirable advances in direction of her. She defined that Lyft had emailed her and advised her that they had handled the passenger. However then, later that week, she mentioned that they despatched her one other e-mail saying they may not discover the experience in query, leaving her uncertain if she would decide him up once more.
She then mentioned that she adopted up with Lyft and offered them with extra info concerning the incident, however mentioned that she by no means heard again.
“We’re so susceptible”
“We’re so susceptible,” she mentioned.
Ashley Adams, a spokesperson from Lyft, mentioned that security is prime to their firm and that they’re consistently designing options and insurance policies in an try to assist make each Lyft experience protected. Within the e-mail, the spokesperson pointed to options such because the in-app emergency assist button in addition to their 24/7 security assist line. (Each of those options have been nicely obtained by drivers throughout the nation.)
“Whereas we do unpair riders and drivers who fee one another 3 stars or fewer, after we obtain security studies it’s our coverage to take extra motion, which might embrace investigating internally, gathering extra info from riders and drivers, and deactivating the accounts used,” mentioned Adams in an e-mail.
In sure markets, Lyft mentioned that they’re engaged on methods to determine and take motion in opposition to new and current rider accounts that they decide to be high-risk. These embrace quickly and completely deactivating accounts, blocking customers from creating new accounts, and requiring riders to submit extra info earlier than requesting a experience.
“Violence and harassment aren’t tolerated on the Lyft platform, and accounts of drivers or riders who have interaction in such conduct or in any other case violate our Group Tips are completely faraway from the platform,” Adams mentioned in an e-mail.
Just a few years in the past, Tara created an area Fb group for Myrtle Seashore and Charleston drivers. By way of it, she met Cathy, a 60-year-old former particular training trainer, who was driving in the identical space. They shortly turned mates.
Tara and Cathy started maintaining a tally of one another all through their rides. On the finish of every work night time, they’d meet at a Walmart car parking zone in Charleston to take naps earlier than heading again to Myrtle Seashore, about two hours away.
“We had one another. If I had been gone too lengthy, she would name to guarantee I used to be okay,” Tara defined. “And, you understand, similar for me if I didn’t hear from her for some time, I’d name her and ensure all the things was going okay.”
They each stopped driving full-time just lately however often nonetheless take the wheel on busy days like Thanksgiving. They’re nonetheless mates. Each Tara and Cathy hope that Uber and Lyft begin doing a greater job defending their drivers, holding their passengers accountable, and getting higher at responding to delicate incidents, together with sexual assault and harassment.
Trying again, Tara mentioned that she wished that she’d had Cathy throughout her first few years on the job however is grateful for the years that they had been in a position to assist one another.
“We had been simply two girls from the identical metropolis who had to create a buddy system and maintain observe of one another to be certain that we had been protected,” she mentioned. “We supported one another when Uber didn’t.”