After a night of drinking in late August, a recent UC Berkeley graduate hopped in a Lyft and headed home. She remembers little about the exchange she had with her driver, who seemed to be veering off the route that would take her home.
“What I do remember is that this was a highly unusual and increasingly dangerous situation,” Brittney Sundquist tells SF Weekly. “And running through the woods.”
In a viral Facebook post from Aug. 24, Sundquist shared a harrowing story in which she jumped out of a white Lyft car after sensing that the driver, identified as “Suo” on screenshots of her receipt, drove miles off course into a desolate part of the Oakland Hills earlier that morning.
Sundquist found herself stuck in an unfamiliar area — later determined to be Dimond Park, more than six miles from her destination — past 2 a.m., with severe knee pain from a recent ACL replacement surgery. She ended up taking another Lyft home, arrived in hysterics, and contacted Oakland police in the morning.
“What is being described is horrific. We have reached out to the passenger to extend our full support and the driver has been permanently banned from the Lyft platform,” Lyft said in response. “We stand ready to assist law enforcement with their investigation.”
Data on sexual assaults by drivers of rideshare companies is not made public, but a CNN analysis of police and court records from April found at least 103 drivers in 20 major U.S. cities accused of such activity. At least 31 have been convicted of charges that vary from forcible touching to rape.
Since Sundquist made her story public, she says more than 30 women all over the country have reached out with similar stories. Her friend and roommate Amanda Wood — a rideshare driver herself — helped her launch a MoveOn petition to have Lyft add the option of requesting a female driver.
“There’s power dynamics between men and women. It just greatly lowers the odds of being abused in other ways,” Sundquist says. “These companies need to do better.”
Lyft declined to comment on the petition, which garnered roughly 14,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, but one company might soon give them the response they’re looking for. Safr, which sets itself apart by promoting the option to request female drivers and riders, launches in San Francisco this fall.
The app premiered in Boston a year ago, and an eye-popping 95 percent of its drivers are women, says CEO Syed Gilani. Unlike Lyft and Uber, drivers go through in-person interviews on top of the usual background checks. Safr has a few hundred drivers in San Francisco registered so far, and already traces most of its downloads to California.
“We want to be able to provide [riders] a choice,” Gilani says. “Safr is simply one component of that.”
It may be a Band-Aid on the epidemic that is male violence against women, but Sundquist says she feels good about apps like Safr and Noonlight, which has the user hold down a button if they’re feeling unsafe and contacts police if they let go for more than 10 seconds.
“Maybe that could have really helped me in that situation,” Sundquist says. “I’m just being more aware now. I refuse to live my life in fear.”
Ida Mojadad is a staff writer at SF Weekly.
Imojadad@sfweekly.com | @idamoj