Rideshare Safety Campaign Places Responsibility on Passengers

The District Attorney’s new education campaign skirts around corporate responsibility.

The District Attorney’s Office launched a public information campaign to ensure rideshare safety

Uber and Lyft would be safer if people just got into the right car, a new public-education campaign appears to say.

In a partnership with the San Francisco Police Department and Uber, District Attorney George Gascón announced the launch of “Rideshare with Care” on Tuesday. If riders follow three easy steps, they can feel assured that if their driver assaults or abducts them, they’ll at least know who did it.

In a new safety graphic that has yet to be substantially rolled out, passengers are first asked to verify the car’s color, make, model, and license plate number on the app. Then, they should make sure the driver’s picture matches. Oh, and riders shouldn’t forget to ask “What’s your name?” or “Who are you here for?” before climbing in.

Last but not least, everyone should share their pickup spot and destination with someone they trust. (Uber has extended this option to drivers who want to share trips with others through the app for safety reasons.) Sending a text is also recommended.

Gascón assured the public that “most of the time, everything is going to be OK” during the estimated 170,000 rides on any given weekday in San Francisco.

“We also know that when things go wrong, they can really go wrong,” he said. “You have to do all three steps and you have to do it in that order.”

Gascón acknowledged that this campaign is tailored to prevent riders from getting into cars that may be masquerading as rideshare vehicles, a situation that leaves people even more vulnerable — and with little information to track the person down should they be a predator.

When asked what spurred the campaign, Gascón and SFPD Commander Greg McEachern cited “national cases,” but declined to comment on the “Rideshare Rapist,” who sexually assaulted at least four women in San Francisco, as far back as 2013. In July, San Mateo resident Orlando Vilchez Lazo was taken into custody and charged with false imprisonment, kidnapping, assault with attempt to commit rape, sexual assault with a foreign object, rape, and intent to commit rape.

But this campaign leaves out the experiences of people like Brittney Sundquist, a recent UC Berkeley graduate who jumped out of a car when her Lyft driver went miles away from her Oakland home. She notified Lyft, which confirmed that it banned the driver, and Oakland police subsequently opened a case. With her Lyft-driving housemate and friend, Sundquist has since pushed for the option to choose the driver’s gender.

For cases like those, McEachern said there is no specific effort or data from the department but that it’s “fairly rare.” At the same time, it’s difficult for them to identify which offenders are part of a rideshare platform and which are just pretending.

“The hard part is it’s very resource-intensive,” McEachern said, adding, “It’s been very evident that both [Uber and Lyft] are concerned for public safety.”

Indeed, public safety what Uber representative Andrew Hasbun touted as the company’s No. 1 priority. But until we know how prevalent the issue of rider and driver safety is in San Francisco, it’s tough to act on it completely.

Like Hasbun said, “This is an issue that’s 100-percent preventable.”

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