The Uber ride service app employs more than 160,000 drivers, in 60 countries, in over 300 cities worldwide. It has been estimated that more than 8 million people use Uber instead of traditional taxi services because of the convenience, fare splitting options, and an overview of pricing prior to booking the ride. Though many users find Uber to be a great service, that convenience can come at a price.
Drivers are employed as independent contractors. Unlike a traditional taxi service, Uber simply connects passengers with willing drivers, meaning that the same restrictions and regulations that apply to taxi drivers do not apply when it comes to Uber’s drivers. This puts the customer’s safety at risk.
Recently Uber’s background checks have also been called into question. District Attorneys from both Los Angeles and San Francisco have filed suits against Uber for misleading customers into believing that their ride service is safer than it is and have discovered at least 25 drivers in both LA and San Francisco were able to slip through Uber’s screening process with criminal records, which included murder and DUI convictions. If those statistics don’t scare Uber users a little, then perhaps the incidents detailed below will.
The San Francisco Hammer Attack
In San Francisco, CA a dispute over the driving route between an Uber driver and his passenger escalated into a violent assault in September of 2014. The victim alleges that he and two friends were picked up from a bar by 26-year-old Patrick Karajah after ordering a ride through the Uber ride service app. During the ride an argument broke out between Karajah and his passenger about the route the driver had chosen to take. Karajah stopped at an intersection and ordered all three passengers to exit the vehicle. As the passengers climbed out of the car, Karajah then used a hammer to smash Roberto Chicas in the head. Chicas was left at the side of the road falling in and out of consciousness until help arrived. It is believed that Chicas may never regain his eyesight in his left eye as a result of the hammer attack. Karajah was arrested for two felony counts of assault and battery and later released on a $125,000 bond.
The Indianapolis Incidents
Johnathan Keller, was coming home from a Halloween party dressed in a Pokemon costume when he was picked up by an Uber driver. Keller, who is a severe asthmatic, complained of the cigarette smell in the car. The driver flew off the handle and threatened Keller’s life. Keller made it out of the car without further incident from the driver, but Uber later suspended Indianapolis man, citing a concern for his mental health.
Keller may have gotten lucky, but one Indianapolis woman feared for her life when an Uber driver she had called hit her in the face. The cause for the attack is believed to have been due to the woman arriving at her pickup location late and changing her drop off point. There is no word on whether the woman filed formal charges against the driver or Uber as a result of the attack.
On December 16, 2014 a Massachusetts woman was kidnapped and raped when she ordered a ride through the Uber app. The woman testified that 47-year-old Alejandro Done picked her up and asked her to pay him in cash. After making a stop at the ATM machine, Done drove the woman to a secluded location where he proceeded to strangle and sexually assault her. Done was sentenced to 10-12 years in prison for assault and battery, kidnapping, and aggravated sexual assault. During the time of his sentencing, Done was facing prior convictions in connection to a number of unsolved rape cases around the Boston area, but was able to slip through Uber’s background check since the cases were still pending.
The case in Massachusetts wasn’t the first time passengers had been sexually assaulted by their Uber drivers. A case coming out of India, where a woman was brutally beaten and raped by her Uber driver, sparked a ban on Uber ride services by the New Delhi government. In March of 2014, a Washington D.C. Uber limousine driver pushed a 20-year-old woman to the ground and sexually assaulted her. These are just some of a growing number of rape cases surrounding the Uber transportation service.
After writer, activist and former lecturer for Harvard University, Bridget Todd, tweeted that she had been a victim of a hate crime at the hands of an Uber driver, Uber’s PR team scrambled to save face for the service and completely denied that the incident had even occurred.
Todd claims that she used the service to pick her up after a night of drinking with her husband. Bridget claims that as she kissed her husband – a white man – the Uber driver stopped the car and pulled Bridget – a black woman – out of the car by her neck. However, the driver has a very different story of the events that had transpired that evening.
The driver, “David E,” says that he picked up Ms. Todd, her husband, and another passenger that evening. Ms. Todd was heavily intoxicated and threw an empty beer can out of the car window after it had leaked inside of her purse. The driver expressed his concern for the alcohol in the vehicle since he could be cited for it. Ms. Todd said not to worry and if that happened she would pay his fines. After the driver had dropped off one of the passengers, only Todd and her husband were riding in the vehicle. Todd and her husband began kissing in the back seat, which the driver says wasn’t an issue, but her shoes were digging into the back of the seat. The driver asked Ms. Todd if she keep her shoes off the seat. That’s when David E. claims Todd flew off the handle. She ordered the driver to drop her off and when she exited the vehicle she closed the door to the car with great force, prompting the driver to assess his vehicle for damages. Ms. Todd continued to yell and threaten the driver until the police arrived. Both parties declined pressing charges.
In an email sent to ValleyWag journalist Nitasha Tiku, Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick was upset that the media had portrayed Uber as, “somehow liable for these incidents that aren’t even real in the first place.”, with a warning to Uber’s press team to, “make sure these writers don’t come away thinking we are responsible even when these things do go bad.” It is still unclear whether Todd fabricated her version of the story or not, but it is clear that Uber wants the public to know that they hold themselves in no way responsible for attacks or other incidents that may occur to passengers at the hands of Uber drivers.
Kidnapped by Uber
Ryan Simonetti, CEO of Convene, and his colleagues thought nothing of using the Uber service in order to grab a ride from his Washington D.C. Office to the nearby city of Tysons Corner, VA. Simonetti said the driver became increasingly paranoid about a “cop” he believed was following the vehicle. The driver then turned around and told his passengers, “I’m sorry, we’re going to have to run this red light.” Simonetti says, “It was like an episode of ‘Cops, I physically tried to force his leg to hit the brake. I ripped off his pant leg…. I said, ‘Here’s two options. You take this exit, or I’m going to knock the side of your head in. If we crash, we crash, but you’re gonna kill us anyway.”
The “cop” following the vehicle was not actual law enforcement, but a taxi inspector. The inspector had suspected the driver of making an illegal street pickup, but denies chasing the vehicle. Simonetti says that no only did the inspector pursue the vehicle as the driver narrowly avoided crashing into passing vehicles, but the only reason the chase came to a halt was due to the inspector cutting off the driver. Once the car stopped, Simonetti and his colleagues were able to secure another driver to pick them up and take them to their destination without further incident.
Ron Linton, Chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commissions, is perplexed on why the driver may have decided to flee from the inspector. The ride was legal. The driver’s only requirement would have been to show his documentation from Uber to the inspector and he would have been sent on his way.