More than three years after ridehail companies Uber and Lyft first pledged to release safety reports disclosing incidents of sexual assault and abuse on their platforms, Lyft has yet to do so. Meanwhile, hundreds of passengers are now lining up for potential lawsuits over alleged incidents of this nature, plaintiff lawyers tell CNN Business.
In May 2018, after a CNN investigation into sexual assault and abuse incidents by ride-hail drivers, Uber (UBER) and Lyft (LYFT), each committed to releasing safety transparency reports that would disclose internal data on the most severe safety incidents on their platforms. By the end of 2019, Uber (UBER) put out its first report, which revealed it had received 5,981 reports of sexual assault involving passengers and drivers in the two years prior, including 464 reports of rape.
Lyft, for its part, has not followed through on its own prior timelines for putting out the report.
When CNN Business asked Lyft in September 2019 about the status of the report, Lyft said it planned to release its transparency report by the end of the year. In May 2020, Lyft told CNN Business the company planned to release the report that year.
In March 2021, Lyft’s head of policy development, Jennifer Brandenburger, cited a roadblock: Lyft, she said, is waiting for Uber to resolve its ongoing issue with the California Public Utilities Commission prior to releasing its own report. (The CPUC requested additional information on incidents that occurred in the state and then fined Uber $59 million for failing to comply with its request; CPUC and Uber are in ongoing 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.”
When asked about the changed timelines, Lyft told CNN Business it had decided to include data from 2019 in its report and was waiting on government traffic fatality data to be released. By the time it was, the CPUC had taken issue with Uber’s report.
As Lyft waits, legal cases against the company continue to grow stemming from its handling of alleged sexual assault and rape incidents. At least 72 passengers are suing the company over alleged incidents. Of those cases, a small number are expected to go to trial through a coordinated proceeding. Some of the cases allege Lyft has been aware that its drivers were sexually assaulting and raping female passengers for years but has failed to take adequate steps to protect passengers and warn them of the issue.
The first trial is set to begin in January 2022.
(Lyft referred CNN Business to its statement from December 2019, after suits were filed: “Everyone deserves the ability to move about the world safely, yet women still face disproportionate risks. We recognize these risks, which is why we are relentless in building safety into every aspect of our work. That means continually investing in new features and policies to protect our riders and drivers.”)
According to Levin Simes Abrams LLP, one of three firms bringing the cases against Lyft, the number of passengers seeking legal counsel over alleged sexual assault and abuse claims by Lyft drivers is much higher. The firm said it has retained more than 400 clients whose cases it is investigating and prosecuting, with roughly 80 cases filed currently. Estey & Bomberger LLP, another firm bringing separate cases against Lyft and is also part of the coordinated proceeding, 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, who added that while Uber meets periodically with the firm to try and resolve cases, Lyft does not.
In a statement after this story published, Lyft pushed back at this characterization. “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.”
For Lyft there is much at stake in releasing the report, including the potential to dent its brand just as the US economy is beginning to reopen.
Lyft is also facing an ongoing class action lawsuit from investors alleging securities fraud. The suit, which was first filed in 2019 after the company went public, specifically alleges a disconnect between Lyft’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.”
The complaint further notes that Lyft failed to disclose this in its IPO registration statement, which made no mention of the issue.
Lyft declined to comment on the investor lawsuit.
According to Susan Sorenson, a professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania whose research areas include the issue of violence against women, it is “reasonable cause for concern” that Lyft has yet to disclose this data, which would help define the nature and scope of the issue on its platform for the general public.
Sorenson said companies “can and do take action when they feel it’s in their best interest.”
Information around 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, according to Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Distinguished Professor of urban planning and design at UCLA.
“[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.”
Loukaitou-Sideris, who has studied sexual harassment in public transit, said not producing a report may also discourage reporting of incidents to the company.
One reason people do not report alleged incidents of sexual violence, according to Loukaitou-Sideris, is because they perceive that nothing much will happen as a result of their reporting. “By not publishing this data, it is one more reason that justifies that approach,” she said, citing a possible unintended consequence of Lyft having yet to put out a report.
Uber, meanwhile, is slated to publish its second transparency report later this year. While Uber “took a really important first step” in releasing its data, according to Sorenson, she said there is still much more to be done.
Sorenson said it would be helpful to release raw data in an anonymized way so that it can be studied. Additionally, she and attorneys at Levin Simes Abrams LLC said ride-hail companies could require drivers to record rides, for example, so there’s more accountability inside vehicles for both drivers and passengers. (Uber recently started prompting drivers to register their dashcams with the company, citing that it can help drivers follow local surveillance and recording laws. The company said it alerts riders that their trip will be recorded if a driver has registered the dashcam, which may deter safety incidents from occurring.)
Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote to a different partner at Levin Simes Abrams LLC who was on a group call with CNN Business for this story.