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Director note 8/28/14: We are happy to report that after this post was published, Uber got in touch with us immediately. Going forward, we are excited to be working with them to develop appropriate anti-harassment training for their drivers. Thank you, Uber Boston, for taking our concerns seriously and for being committed to providing safe transit for all of our residents! -Britni
I want to say this upfront: here at Hollaback! Boston, we love Uber. Many of us are Uber users ourselves, and the reason that we reached out to them with the following correspondence in the first place was because we’re hoping to make them even better and we wanted to address what we saw as a possible blind spot in their policies and procedures.
The entire thing started when I read this piece from Collective Action for Safe Spaces about Uber’s recent “Safe Rides Fee.” CASS said the following:
Ultimately, our call this week with Uber revealed that — despite its new safety fee — not much has changed about how the company trains its staff or deals with sexual harassment complaints.In our work on transit issues, CASS has emphasized that culture change is the key to ensuring safe transportation for women and LGBTQ individuals. When it comes to Uber, firing individual drivers may cure the symptoms, but not the cause: the unmet need for preventive training regarding sexual harassment and assault. The Uber rep that CASS spoke with said that the company hardly ever receives reports of sexual harassment or assault by drivers. When you’re dealing with the most underreported crime in the country, a low number of reports is not the best indicator of progress. Often, it’s a sign that victims don’t feel empowered to speak up. Rather than offering a misleading “safety” surcharge, what about actually increasing passenger safety in the present? We think Uber should do more.
Knowing that Uber branches are run locally, we decided to reach out to Uber Boston about the same issue. On May 3, I sent the following email to the press email address at Uber:
If this is not the right email address to contact with this sort of question, could you please forward it on to the right person? It’s the only one I could find on the site!
I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about the Safe Rides Fee on uberX. What does that fee pay for, exactly? How does it contribute to safety of riders? I’m asking because, here at Hollaback! Boston, we’re working towards safe public space in our city, and that includes transit and transportation options. We’re huge advocates for a variety of options for people to get around, and would love to know more about how Uber is contributing to that and how the Safe Rides Fee ties in.
Looking forward to hearing from you and thank you so much!
Co-director, Hollaback! Boston
Ten days later, on May 13, we received a reply from Meghan.
Thank you so much for reaching out! We are also huge advocates for a variety of options for people to get around – and also safe public space in our city – so it’s great to connect.
Uber’s #1 mission is and always has been connecting riders with the safest rides on the road. The Safe Rides Fee is simply a transparent way for us to support the increased costs associated with our continued safety efforts – including enhanced background checks (at county, state, and federal levels), regular motor vehicle checks on Uber’s constantly growing list of partner drivers around the world, driver safety education, current and future development of additional safety features in the app, and insurance. By adding $1 to each uberX trip, we can maintain a sustainable business while continuing to provide affordable, reliable, convenient rides to as many people as possible around the city – and around the world.
Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any further questions, and please let us know if you’d ever like to partner together on any of your events… We’d love to help provide free rides for people who have yet to try Uber, or provide whatever information we can to get the word out about safe transportation options.
And feel free to reach me at this email from now on! As you can see, it can sometimes take a while for emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org to find the right owner.
While I appreciated the response, it did not contain any information about the Safe Rides Fee that was not already listed on the Uber website. Looking at the site now, it appears that the Safe Rides Fee information has been removed, and in its place is a tab on safety. It discusses “rider safety,” and mentions background checks for drivers, not having to hail a car, anonymous feedback, and driver profiles. What it does not mention is sexual assault or harassment training for drivers, which the Safe Rides Fee before it did not mention either. I followed up with Meghan the next day and received no reply. This continued as I sent three emails over the course of two months. In these emails, I wanted to know the answers to three specific questions:
After getting no response from my third followup email with Meghan at Uber, I was preparing to contact them one more time to let them know that we would be writing this post, and we’d really appreciate if they would comment further on their sexual assault and harassment policies. We love their company and wanted to give them the chance to speak for themselves, and I wondered if maybe we weren’t getting a response because Meghan was no longer with the company. While preparing that email, CASS ran another piece, this time about a sexual assault by a Uber DC driver that had allegedly occurred. I tweeted the link from my personal Twitter account and had the following exchange:
True to my word, I sent another email, this time attaching the link to the most recent CASS piece about a sexual assault by an Uber driver and the screenshot of their tweet directing me to email the Support Boston address. I also included all previous attempts at correspondence to show that I had been trying to contact them about this issue for going on three months.
It took a pretty ridiculous full week for them to reply to my email, but Meghan, who is still with the company, got back to me. And in the email, she did not address a single one of my specific questions.
This response is unacceptable. For the past three months, Uber has dodged our emails, responding only after being publicly called out on Twitter. That response is inadequate, as it fails to actually answer any of the specific questions that we asked them about their driver training. Uber’s lack of transparency and reluctance to address the possibility of sexual assault and harassment by their drivers is concerning, and sends the message that they don’t take these matters seriously. Especially in light of the recent assault by an Uber driver in DC, we think it’s incredibly important that Uber be willing to address these matters and offer training for their drivers in a concrete manner. We’d even be happy to work with them to develop the training!
So we want to know: why won’t Uber talk to us about sexual assault and harassment policies? If Uber takes safety as seriously as they indicate on their website, they should consider it.
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