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Ridesharing Safety

Ridesharing use is on the rise. But so are reports of sexual misconduct victimizing rideshare passengers. MCEDSV believes that ending sexual violence requires both prevention through education and awareness, as well as justice for survivors of sexual abuse by holding their perpetrators accountable. Some details in the following story have been changed for privacy reasons. 

Juana’s Story

Juana had never used a ridesharing app. She had lived in Mexico City her whole life and was no stranger to big city transit. But growing up, that meant standing on a busy sidewalk and hailing a cab. Taxi companies were regulRidesharing Safetyated. Cab drivers were licensed.

She knew the rules getting into a taxi and had some assurances about safety when she chose to use one in Mexico. She also knew her way around the neighborhoods of Mexico City. If a cabbie suggested taking her on a longer, more expensive route – probably the biggest risk to worry about – she could correct him or her and direct which roads to take to her destination.

But for her first trip to Detroit for a work conference, she was out of her element. She didn’t know the roads. She worried that, as a foreigner and non-native English speaker, she might be taken advantage of by American cabbies. Her friends supported her concerns and suggested a solution: ridesharing apps. “The app shows you the shortest route and the price beforehand, so you know what you’ll pay and where you’re going,” her friends explained. That sounded good to Juana, so she downloaded a popular app and decided to give it a try.

When she arrived in Detroit, Juana opened the app. It had selected the nearest driver for her, Jose. She wondered if maybe he spoke Spanish. She felt more comfortable with a Spanish-speaker, so she accepted the suggested rideshare.

When a car pulled up that matched Jose’s profile, she approached and knocked on the window. “Are you Jose?” she asked. “Yes.” he replied. “You need a ride?” He opened the front, passenger-side door for her and put her suitcase in his trunk. She got in, proud of herself for making the new app work so easily. The two started talking, and quickly switched to Spanish. Jose told her he grew up in Puerto Rico. Relieved that things worked out so well, Juana closed the app and relaxed.

As they arrived at her hotel, Jose got out to get Juana’s bag. Used to cabs, Juana got out some cash. “What do I owe you?” she asked. Jose laughed. “You’re a rideshare app virgin, huh? First time using this?” She blushed and nodded. “You paid me through the app. But if you want to give me a tip, I’ll take a hug.” Before she could say anything, Jose had already embraced Juana. “It was nice to meet you,” he whispered in her ear, and kissed her cheek. Then he pulled a business card from his pocket and handed it to her. “Hey, Detroit can be confusing. We don’t have a subway. The People Mover and Q-Line really go anywhere. Next time you need a ride, you should call me. My cell phone number is on my card.” She took the card. The exchange felt awkward. “Maybe he’s just a very friendly guy,” she thought.

The next day, Juana attended her conference at the hotel. That night, she decided to go out with some colleagues from the event. They had texted her the name of the restaurant to meet at. Confident about her ridesharing skills, she walked outside of the hotel and opened up the app. She didn’t have a  strong signal for internet access on her cell phone plan here. And the hotel’s wifi wasn’t working outside of the building. The app kept crashing. “Wait.” She thought. “I have that cabbie’s business card.” She called Jose.

Within minutes he was at her hotel. “Hey, you missed my handsome face?” Again, he got out and opened the front, passenger-side door. She got in. “Ok, honey, where are we going tonight?” He asked. She showed him the text from her colleague with the restaurant details. The contact’s name, Maria, displayed on her screen. “Maria, huh? It’s gonna be girls gone wild night tonight?” He laughed. “Just dinner.” She replied. “Oh, that’s no fun. Detroit is a great town. You should have a good time while you’re here.” He put the car in drive.

They were driving for a long time. She didn’t know where the restaurant was, but something seemed wrong. This area was dark and didn’t look like somewhere a restaurant would be. “You know, I’m very popular with my female passengers,” Jose said to her, smiling. He patted her leg. She nudged away. “Because I’m so handsome, right?” He laughed. She stayed quiet. “It’s ok. You don’t have to pretend to be shy. I know that’s why you called me.” He tapped her leg again, leaving his hand there a little longer. She brushed it away and squirmed in her seat. “I can show you a good time tonight. That’s what you want, right?” He pulled over on a dark side street and stopped the car. Juana felt sick. She opened her door and ran from the car.

Ridesharing safety tips

To a frequent ridesharing app user, the red flags in this story may seem obvious. However, complaints against rideshare drivers of sexual harassment, misconduct, and even sexual assault have been increasing recently. Consider the following tips when using a ridesharing app:

  1. Know your destination and the route. Review the route in a separate, mapping app and compare that with the proposed route in the ridesharing app.
  2. Before accepting a driver, check his or her rating. It’s ok to decline the first driver that the app suggests for you.
  3. When a car arrives, compare the vehicle description, driver photo, and license plate information with that of the app. Do not simply rely on a sticker in the car window with the name of the app. Also, do not approach the car you believe to be yours and ask “Are you my driver?” Instead, ask “Who are you here to pick up?”
  4. Sit in the back seat.
  5. Keep the app open to monitor if you are sticking to the agreed route. If the driver takes an alternate route without your permission, you can dispute this later in the app and get a refund or report the driver.
  6. Only contact rideshare drivers through the app. This is the only way you can ensure a record of the encounter, should there be a need to report misconduct later.
  7. When in doubt, get out.
  8. Know that your cell phone number is shared through the app for purposes of the driver finding you at pickup. However, the driver should not be contacting you on your cell phone after the ride.
  9. Your profile and and ride history will also be shared with the drIMG_6018iver. However, the driver should not come to your home or pickup location looking for you when you have not requested a ride. That’s stalking.
  10. Negative driver reviews are not enough. Report misconduct to the rideshare service through the app. This is usually an option in the Ride History, Settings, and Help options in the app. It’s also ok to report misconduct to the police. Both the ridesharing app and law enforcement will want to see your records of the encounter. So do not delete any information in the app or your cell phone history.