Lyft has yet to release a safety report detailing incidents of sexual assault and abuse on its platform, more than three years after Uber and Lyft first pledged to do so. Meanwhile, plaintiff lawyers tell CNN Business that hundreds of passengers are lining up for potential lawsuits over alleged incidents of this nature.
Following a CNN investigation into sexual assault and abuse incidents involving ride-hailing drivers in May 2018, Uber (UBER) and Lyft (LYFT) both agreed to release safety transparency reports that would reveal internal data on the most serious safety incidents on their platforms. By the end of 2019, Uber had released its first report, revealing that in the previous two years, it had received 5,981 reports of sexual assault involving passengers and drivers, including 464 reports of rape.
Lyft, on the other hand, has failed to meet its own deadlines for releasing the report.
When CNN Business inquired about the status of the report in September 2019, Lyft stated that it planned to release its transparency report by the end of the year. Lyft told CNN Business in May 2020 that the report would be released that year.
Jennifer Brandenburger, Lyft’s head of policy development, cited a roadblock in March 2021: Lyft is waiting for Uber to resolve its ongoing dispute with the California Public Utilities Commission before releasing its own report, she said. (The CPUC demanded more information about incidents that occurred in the state, and Uber was fined $59 million for failing to comply; the CPUC and Uber are currently in mediation to resolve the issue.)
In a statement, Lyft spokesperson Ashley Adams told CNN Business, “The CPUC’s recent actions put victims’ privacy at risk and must be resolved before we will release our safety report.”
Lyft told CNN Business that it had decided to include data from 2019 in its report and was waiting for government traffic fatality data to be released when asked about the new timelines. The CPUC had taken issue with Uber’s report by the time it was released.
While Lyft waits, legal cases against the company arising from its handling of alleged sexual assault and rape incidents continue to grow. At least 72 passengers have filed a lawsuit against the airline for alleged incidents. Only a small percentage of those cases are expected to go to trial in a coordinated proceeding. Lyft was allegedly aware for years that its drivers were sexually assaulting and rapping female passengers, but failed to take adequate steps to protect passengers and warn them of the problem, according to some of the cases.
In January 2022, the first trial will begin.
(Lyft referred CNN Business to a statement it issued after the lawsuits were filed in December 2019: “Everyone deserves to be able to travel safely around the world, but women continue to face disproportionate risks. We are aware of the dangers, which is why we are committed to incorporating safety into every aspect of our work. That means we have to keep investing in new features and policies to keep our passengers and drivers safe.”)
The number of passengers seeking legal counsel over alleged sexual assault and abuse claims by Lyft drivers is much higher, according to Levin Simes Abrams LLP, one of three firms bringing the cases against Lyft. According to the firm, it has more than 400 clients whose cases it is investigating and prosecuting, with about 80 cases currently pending. Another firm, Estey & Bomberger LLP, which is also part of the coordinated proceeding and is bringing separate cases against Lyft, said it has “many” other alleged victims whose cases it has yet to file.
“These [cases] are going to keep coming unless [Lyft] changes its procedures or institutes more safety measures,” Angela Nehmens, associate attorney at Levin Simes Abrams LLP, told CNN Business last month. “Uber is at least making an attempt to be open with the public. … Lyft is not doing that at all.”
“They’re not cooperative,” said Laurel Simes, a partner at Levin Simes Abrams LLP. While Uber meets with the firm on a regular basis to try to resolve cases, Lyft does not.
Lyft responded to this characterization in a statement released after the story was published. “As the court recently noted, Lyft has been engaged in ongoing discussions with Levin Simes,” Adams said, referring to a recent hearing concerning the coordinated proceeding. “We remain open to discussing any of their clients’ cases.”
Lyft has a lot riding on the report’s release, including the risk of damaging its brand just as the US economy is reopening.
Investors have filed a class action lawsuit against Lyft, alleging securities fraud. The lawsuit, which was first filed in 2019 after Lyft went public, alleges a misalignment between the company’s public image and its handling of sexual assault incidents.
“Lyft built a reputation as a company that cares about women, safety, and social issues. Lyft’s focus on the strength of its reputation was a key selling point to IPO investors,” according to the complaint. “Contrary to the public image … Lyft had a pervasive problem with sexual assaults committed by its drivers.”
Lyft also failed to disclose this in its IPO registration statement, which made no mention of the problem, according to the complaint.
Lyft did not respond to a request for comment on the investor lawsuit.
According to Susan Sorenson, a professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania whose research interests include the issue of violence against women, Lyft’s failure to release this information, which would help define the nature and scope of the problem on its platform for the general public, is “reasonable cause for concern.”
Companies, according to Sorenson, “can and do take action when they believe it is in their best interest.”
According to Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Distinguished Professor of urban planning and design at UCLA, information about safety incidents can help people make informed decisions about how and when to travel, but the transparency also runs the risk of damaging a company’s reputation.
“[The companies] should be very concerned if people start saying that there’s an increasing number of people that complain about harassment because this whole idea of safe travel through Lyft or Uber falls apart,” said Loukaitou-Sideris. “I think that’s why they’re very much protecting their data on this point.”
According to Loukaitou-Sideris, who has researched sexual harassment in public transportation, failing to file a report may discourage people from reporting incidents to the company.
According to Loukaitou-Sideris, one reason people do not report alleged cases of sexual violence is that they believe nothing will happen as a result of their reporting. “By not publishing this data, it justifies that approach even more,” she said, citing an unintended consequence of Lyft’s failure to release a report.
Uber, on the other hand, will release its second transparency report later this year. According to Sorenson, while Uber “took a really important first step” by releasing its data, there is still much more to be done.
Sorenson believes that releasing raw data in an anonymized form so that it can be studied would be beneficial.
Additionally, she and attorneys at Levin Simes Abrams LLC suggested that ride-hailing companies might require drivers to record rides, for example, to ensure that both drivers and passengers are held accountable inside vehicles. (Uber has recently begun encouraging drivers to register their dashcams with the company, claiming that doing so will allow them to comply with local surveillance and recording laws.) If a driver has registered the dashcam, the company warns riders that their trip will be recorded, which may deter safety incidents.)