Holding Rideshare Giants Accountable for Driver and Rider Safety Following Prop 22

Published on Oct. 25, 2023

Rideshare drivers for companies such Uber and Lyft are no longer classified as employees but rather, independent contractors, following the passage of Prop 22.

This has unfortunately contributed to a gig worker economy with poor worker protections. No longer needing to classify drivers as employees has led to rideshare companies failing to take proper accountability and actions when drivers are harmed on the job. In addition to assault and battery, the issue of sexual assault when it comes to these rideshare apps has become a widespread issue. In San Francisco alone, there have been eleven sexual assault related lawsuits from passengers and two from drivers.

One class-action lawsuit revealed that the ridesharing company argued that passengers who speak up about being sexually assaulted in an Uber, must individually settle their cases through arbitration. According to an October, 2022, New York Times article, the San Jose Police Department states that Uber and Lyft are not forwarding reports of sexual assaults.

For example, a Lyft driver named Zelia was attacked by a passenger. She claims that she has not received any emotional or financial support from the company. “Uber receives a complaint, investigates the complaint, makes a finding and handles said finding internally and privately. Uber has essentially carved out its own justice system,” states Ms.Terry Harman, assistant district attorney for Santa Clara County.

A lack of responsibility and urgency from drive share employers is a continuous theme throughout reports. In addition, the New York Times also reports that 91% of victims sexually assaulted are riders and 7% of victims are drivers. Uber also reported 20 deaths that came as a result of physical assaults over a two-year period, 15 of those being riders. In addition, according to a July, 2021, CNN Business report, the CPUC fined the rideshare companies $59 million for failing to report these cases and suspended their license to operate in the state.

Uber has agreed to provide anonymized data on sexual assault incidents and give victims the ability to opt-in to being contacted by the CPUC in the future. Uber has also agreed to put more money into the issue, contributing $5 million to the California Victims Compensation Board, which assists victims of violence in the state, and putting $4 million toward developing industry-wide efforts. These efforts include developing best practices on classifying, reporting and responding to these types of incidents.

While this is a small step in the right direction, it does not solve the issue of gig workers’ vulnerability to violence following the passage of Prop 22. Countless other lawsuits against the company and accounts from Uber employees say the ridesharing companies continue to get away with dragging their feet when cooperating with police.

While the majority of victims involved in rideshare assaults are riders, as the lack of accountability from corporations also greatly puts riders at risk, it’s important to remember that drivers can also be victims of assault. These accounts are especially alarming, as assaulted drivers now have next to no workplace harm safeguards since being classified as independent contractors.

Accounts of Uber and Lyft failing to protect their drivers reported in an August, 2021, USA Today article include that of Stella Grant, a Chicago-based Lyft driver, who said she was physically assaulted by an intoxicated passenger in 2021. Grant said the passenger punched her and grabbed the steering wheel, causing the vehicle to crash. Grant also stated she has anxiety and back pain after the incident. 

Stuart Berman, a Connecticut-based driver, said he had to have surgery and undergo physical therapy after a passenger punched him in the head last year. According to a news release from the law firm Peiffer Wolf, Berman was left scarred and is unable to walk or climb stairs at a normal speed. 

Amy Collins, a California-based driver, said she was groped and choked by an intoxicated passenger in 2020. Erika Garcia-Galicia, a California-based driver said she suffered a panic attack after she was groped by a passenger in February, 2021.

An extremely tragic example of a driver being victimized by a passenger is in the case of Daniel Piedra Garcia, who had been an Uber driver for three weeks when he picked up a rider on June 16 in the border town of El Paso, Texas. The passenger later said that when she saw a sign for the bridge to the border crossing, she feared she was being kidnapped and taken to Mexico. The passenger, Phoebe Capos, 48, grabbed a revolver from her purse and shot Piedra, 52.

Piedra started driving for Uber in recent weeks as a second job to help make ends meet for his family, including his wife, Ana Piedra, and their nephew Luis Barragan, 16, whom they had raised since he was 3 months old. In April, Mr. Piedra underwent knee surgery after a metal rack fell on him while he was working as a diesel mechanic, his family said.

He lost pay after the injury, his wife said, and decided to pick up some extra work that he could perform while sitting down.

Driver advocacy groups and members of congress have pressured gig companies to improve safety measures to protect their drivers.

Last year, Uber’s safety report said that a total of 19 drivers were killed in 2019 and 2020 alone, 14 in crashes and five in assaults. A recent report by Gig Workers Rising, indicated that those numbers are climbing, estimating that 31 driving or delivery app-based workers, including Lyft and DoorDash, were killed on the job in 2022. Calling attention to horrific accounts like these, along with corporation data reports helps to provide the leverage needed to demand better worker protections from rideshare companies.

Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), like Uber and Lyft, have to provide an Annual Data Report to the California Public Utilities Commision. Each year, data reports covering operations from September 1 through August 31 must be submitted by all TNCs. Uber and Lyft both have to report on the same type of data. For example, both Uber and Lyft must provide data reports on incidents of assaults and harassment. These publicly accessible TNC Annual Reports have been edited to safeguard personal identifiable information that the Commission has concluded has been excluded from disclosure on the basis of privacy. Furthermore, TNCs alleges that redacted material is confidential and protected trade secret information. This means that the information that has been withheld includes details like the names and license numbers of the drivers, the VINs of the vehicles, and specific location data. Based on the information from the 2021 Annual Data Reports provided by Uber and Lyft, Uber reported 790 incidents involving assault and harassment, while Lyft reported an additional 5,000 incidents of assault and harassment. TNCs are provided with annual report templates and are sent courtesy reminder letters for them to be able to put together the report in a timely manner. Aside from assault and harassment, the CPUC has the TNCs provide information other than what is in the Assault and Harassment Annual Reports. Some other reports include Drivers Training, Drivers Names and IDs, Law Enforcement Citation, Accidents and Incidents, Off-Platform Solicitation, Accessibility Complaints, Suspended Drives, Total Violations and Incidents, Zero Tolerance, Number of Miles, and many others which are available on their website.

Some actions CPUC could take in addressing rideshare accountability issues could be through requiring Uber and Lyft to assist law enforcement in investigating sexual assaults when they are reported to the police. In addition, Uber and Lyft should take the hiring and vetting of drivers more seriously and have actual face-to-face interviews. The CPUC should also have TNCs provide access to rideshare driver data and report all data that is related to public safety. They should provide to local and state governments full transparency of driver and rider data for the purpose of better safety. Another preventative measure could be TNCs paying for dashcams in rideshare vehicles. Uber and Lyft should, at no cost to the driver, provide all required materials essential for the rideshare service to operate safely. This could start with a camera in every vehicle dashboard, in addition to an extension to the rider app which records audio and video. CPUC should also require that TNCs have a collective “no-hire as drivers” list, shared across company platforms, after a driver has been credibly accused of abusive and violent conduct and has had a fair hearing. Uber and Lyft should also collaboratively monitor rider history and behavior with a no-ride list database. Lastly, the CPUC should require that drivers have permits from the CPUC in order to work for any TNC. Advocating for these requirements to be enacted will help to keep both gig workers and customers safer. In addition, it helps to hold rideshare companies accountable following Prop 22’s negative impact on the gig worker economy and safety. For more information on how to get involved and support gig workers, Gig Workers Rising is an excellent resource for supporting drive share safety measures.

by Eduardo Fernandez and Faith Roder