The spotlight is once again on Uber and its alarmingly light safety requirements after a driver went on a mass shooting spree, killing six people and injuring two in Michigan this weekend, while picking up and dropping off passengers in between.
“People who drive for hire passenger transportation, they’re placed in a position of trust. They’re sort of like daycare workers. Their customers are vulnerable, alone, in a strange car,” said Dave Sutton, the spokesman for Who’s Driving You, a campaign run by the Taxicab Limousine and Paratransit Association. “And Uber leaves them vulnerable.”
In this weekend’s case, the latest in a string of safety disasters turned public relations nightmares for the $62.5bn ride-hailing company, 45-year-old Uber driver Jason Dalton picked up and dropped off riders as he careened through the city, randomly killing people during a four-hour period.
Meanwhile, in cities from Austin to San Francisco, Uber is campaigning to keep from having its drivers undergo government background checks.
Riders posted about the Kalamazoo, Michigan, shooter online.
One man says he called an Uber to get out of the neighborhood where he’d heard there was a gunman, only to be picked up by that very shooter.
As part of their theory that they are just a platform for riders and drivers to connect, Uber runs less stringent background checks than traditional taxi services. The company runs private background checks rather than the deeper, slightly more expensive government-run background checks that involve finger printing. Sued recently for lying to customers over its safety procedures and fees, the company agreed to pay $28.5m to settle two lawsuits in San Francisco last week.
No Uber representative meets new drivers before sending them on the road, unlike its rival Lyft, who also skirts the government background checks but does have each driver meet with a “mentor” to get approved on the app.
And Uber does not include a phone number for customers to call in emergencies.
“The reason taxi drivers have background checks done by the government is it’s been a hundred years of painful history of incidents,” Sutton said. “Uber’s tried to convince cities that because of so-called technology they’re magically different, and they’re not providing taxi cab service when of course they are. They’re strangers driving strangers. It’s the same thing.”
Although Dalton had no known criminal background that would have been caught with a standard government background check, Sutton argues that an in-person meeting could have raised concerns. “They may have known if they met him. It’s a basic step that could have prevented a tragedy.”
“The services they provide are cheaper, and that cheapness comes at a cost,” Sutton said.
Uber released a statement in response to the incident.
“We are horrified and heartbroken at the senseless violence in Kalamazoo, Michigan,” Joe Sullivan, Uber’s chief security officer, said in the statement. “We have reached out to the police to help with their investigation in any way that we can.”
Meanwhile, local governments around the country continue to demand Uber increase their safety procedures. The company is currently under fire in Austin, Texas, after several women were allegedly sexually assaulted by their Uber or Lyft drivers in 2015, leading to demands for better safety measures.
Local councilwoman Ann Kitchen brought forth legislation that would require Uber drivers get government background checks and fingerprinting, which the city does of all drivers for hire, even those with foot-powered pedicabs.
In response, Uber updated its app with a horse and buggy option, calling it the “Kitchen’s Uber”.
“Classic ugly political campaign. Just a whole lot of ugly vitriolic things,” Kitchen said. “They’re villifying me. They’re targeting me because I’m chair of our mobility committee.”