Student concerns about ride-share apps are ‘Lyfting’

Lyft

A student was assaulted by a Lyft driver in front of the Sandhu Residence Center April 26. Photo illustration by Bonnie Cash

Uber and Lyft are ushering in a new era of efficient travel, but summoning strangers through an app and getting into their car isn’t always safe.

Early April 26, a Chapman University student awoke at the end of her Lyft ride to the driver fondling him or her, according to a Public Safety crime alert email. Other Chapman students told The Panther that drivers have kicked passengers out of their cars, driven purposefully in the wrong direction and engaged in conversations that are borderline creepy.

“Recently, the first thing (an Uber driver) said when I got in the car was, ‘Wow, I’m so glad to get a beautiful girl as my rider,’ and I was like, ‘Why does that matter?’” said Arianna Behrens, a sophomore screen acting major who frequently uses Uber.

[Related: Editorial | Ride-sharing shouldn’t be scary]

Graphics by Emma Stessman

Though both Uber and Lyft require background checks for drivers, that isn’t a foolproof way to keep customers safe. More than a dozen women have filed a lawsuit against Uber, accusing drivers of sexual assault. On Thursday, the women wrote an open letter demanding that their accounts be heard in court, rather than private arbitration. In July, a Lyft driver was accused of restraining a passenger with a zip tie and sexually assaulting her.

Dalal Alfaris, a junior psychology major and international student from Saudi Arabia, has relied on Uber and Lyft to commute from Huntington Beach for three years. Sometimes, she pretends she can’t speak English just so drivers will leave her alone, she said. Uber drivers in Saudi Arabia are typically younger, less talkative and less “threatening” than American drivers because they don’t engage with passenger, Alfaris said.

Though her parents are thousands of miles away, Alfaris said they still worry about her using ride-sharing apps. They told her to never get in a car after midnight, to pretend to be on the phone the entire ride and to avoid discussing personal information and sensitive topics.

“I don’t feel (ashamed) of being a woman in front of just any guy. It’s only with the (drivers) that point out that I have a vagina before they even talk to me,” Behrens said. “Those are the ones where I completely close up. They start to feel the female energy and I get nervous.”

[Related: Student reports sexual battery by Lyft driver near dorms]

Uber’s website lists ways riders can keep themselves safe, like sharing their location details with a friend and using their intuition to detect when they may be in a dangerous situation. Lyft’s website offers similar features, including a critical response phone line and information about driver and vehicle standards.

Lyft

But Jade Smith, a junior digital arts major, isn’t taking any chances. She tries to use Uber and Lyft “as little as humanly possible” and has cancelled rides in the past because the driver was male or because she was “creeped out” by the driver’s picture on the app. When she does order a ride, she sends her mother or boyfriend a screenshot of the information on the ride in case things go awry.

“I’ve definitely had some nice Uber drivers that were men, but you never know what you’re going to get, especially when you’re by yourself,” Smith said.

Leslie Song contributed to this report.