When a report by Buzzfeed Sunday raised questions about whether Uber was fielding potentially thousands of reports of rape or sexual assault, it drew attention to issues of security of the service for riders and drivers alike.
But Uber isn't the only ridesharing service that could be dealing with a big safety problem. A large proportion of Uber drivers also drive for Lyft, and both services are dealing with growing pools of customers who may pose danger to drivers.
According to a survey of 453 app-based drivers by "Rideshare Guy" Harry Campbell, who maintains a blog for drivers, 56 percent of respondents said that they either currently drive, or used to drive, for Uber and Lyft simultaneously. The survey was sent out to readers of Campbell's blog in late December.
As for the sexual assault data, "the numbers probably aren't exactly the same but there's definitely going to be some overlap," says Campbell, a former aerospace engineer who drives for Uber and Lyft. "What happens in the back of Uber cars, most likely something similar is happening in the back of Lyft cars."
Inc. has reached out to Lyft for comment and will update if the company responds. Uber disputes the Buzzfeed account, saying the data has been misinterpreted.
Campbell thinks Lyft has a few more precautions in place when it comes to preventing attacks. For instance, he says, Lyft has mentors meet with potential drivers before they are allowed on the platform, which can weed out individuals who may be a danger to passengers. Drivers dealing with dangerous situations can also call a hotline at Lyft, though some reports say there's a wait time to connect with a human.
Uber spokeswoman Faryl Ury confirmed Uber does not have a call hotline for U.S. drivers but says the company has more than 100 in-person support centers to help drivers with various needs, including 60 centers in the U.S. But while Lyft and Uber run background checks, those checks do not include fingerprinting, an additional safeguard taxi organizations and government agencies have requested.
Safety can frequently be a greater issue for drivers than riders, Campbell says. "It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of these were instances of passengers on drivers," he says ofBuzzfeed's data, which was culled from leaked screenshots of customer support tickets. "Sexually Assaulted By Customer" appears in the subject line in one of the screenshots.
The busiest driving periods are on weekend nights when riders may be intoxicated, Campbell points out. And most drivers don't know how to deal with customer service issues. If a rider is unruly, a driver might not think to pull over to a police station or step out of the car to prevent being assaulted. Campbell recommends drivers install cameras on their dashboards.
Exactly how much of the data could be pertinent to Lyft is unclear, acknowledges Campbell. The proportion of Uber rides involved in the customer-service data leak is also unclear, he says. Buzzfeed reported that search queries for "sexual assault" and "rape" returned 6,160 and 5,827 customer support tickets respectively, in Uber's Zendesk database, for the period between December 2012 and August 2015.
Uber has claimed that a majority of the customer support tickets counted in the screenshots do not pertain to actual claims of rape or sexual assault but appear in the total count for other reasons. The company says it received five claims of rape and fewer than 170 of sexual assault in the time frame for which the search pertains.
Media reports seem to indicate that more reports of rape and sexual assault stem from Uber than Lyft, according to Dave Sutton, spokesman for Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association program Who's Driving You?, which gathers news reports of dangerous incidents on Uber and Lyft.
Sutton says, however, that the program has seen a slight uptick in sexual assaults involving Lyft. Whereas in the past there might be one or two sexual assaults reported to the media in connection with Lyft rides within a given year, last year Who's Driving You came across five or six media reports.
In both cases, it's important to mention that the services have added drivers in recent years and that historically Uber has had more drivers than Lyft.
Sutton adds that media reports may not pick on all sexual assaults reported to police, and that such incidents often go completely unreported.
This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Faryl Ury's name.