|06 December, 2019

Ugly Uber data is first step tackling ugly problem

Uber Technologies released data on the number of sexual assaults, fatal attacks taken in 2017 and 2018 in U.S.

An Uber car is pictured in New York City, New York, U.S., December 6, 2019.

An Uber car is pictured in New York City, New York, U.S., December 6, 2019.

Reuters/Jefferson Siegel

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Solving an ugly problem requires admitting there is one in the first place. Uber Technologies on Thursday released data on the number of sexual assaults, fatal attacks and the like in the course of 2.3 billion U.S. rides taken in 2017 and 2018. A tally of thousands for such events is shocking. But the fact the car-hailing firm is publishing its record can only aid in making Uber safer.

Over two years, the data shows that more than 6,000 sex-related assaults were reported and 19 fatalities occurred. As a comparison point, Uber says the New York Police Department received more than 1,100 complaints of sex offenses in the transit system over 2017 and 2018. It’s hard to know how to interpret that, with 3.4 billion subway rides alone over the period reported by the city’s transit authority.

Credit Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who noted that reactions would range from surprise at the rarity of incidents to outrage at their frequency, and from praise for Uber’s efforts to brickbats. “They will all be right,” he said. Publication could, for instance, prompt more consumers to file lawsuits over the company’s lapses. Rival Lyft, which is planning to issue its own safety report, is already embroiled in a lawsuit filed by several women claiming the firm ignored sexual-assault complaints.

Uber has a checkered history with the harassment of women within its corporate ranks, one reason Khosrowshahi was brought in to replace former boss Travis Kalanick. The $48 billion firm has regularly been accused of lax background requirements for drivers, and a loophole allowing unvetted users to pretend to be approved drivers was one reason London recently declined to renew the company’s license to operate there, pending an appeal by Uber.

For all the ambiguities, though, Uber’s report achieves at least two things. First, it should force rivals to be more transparent. And it ensures the company is motivated to reduce the incidence of crime – as it did from 2017 to 2018 – by tightening background checks, adding security measures and providing training. Ideally Uber should aim for no sexual assaults or deaths. That’s beyond what’s possible, but measuring the challenge is one way to credibly tackle it.

CONTEXT NEWS

- Uber Technologies released a safety report on Dec. 5. The firm examined data from 2.3 billion rides in the United States in 2017 and 2018. Last year, Uber received more than 3,000 sexual assault reports and nine fatal attacks occurred in 1.3 billion rides. Over the two-year span, it reported over 6,000 sexual assaults and 19 fatalities related to physical assault. The incidence of both per million rides decreased in 2018 from 2017, and preliminary data suggests a decrease in the first half of 2019, too, the company said.

(Editing by Richard Beales and Amanda Gomez)

© Reuters News 2019

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