Google “Lyft sexual assault” or “Uber harassment” and you will find one report after another of drivers assaulting, stalking, and kidnapping passengers.
By Adrie Rose
TW/CW: Mentions of rape, kidnapping, and sexual assault.
Uber and Lyft exist to replace public transit. No, seriously. Dade County earmarked $575,000 of its transit budget to subsidize Uber and Lyft rides to Metrorail or train stations. In Denver, the Uber app allows passengers to purchase a train ticket in the app, capitalizing on public transit agencies’ repeated failures to address the needs of disabled and aging riders. “The power of the passenger” as Lyft called it, reinforcing the autonomy of the average city dweller and strengthening the case for multi-modal transit. But in the ten years since Lyft and Uber have come into the public space, public transit ridership has declined in an exponentially worse and cumulative way. In San Francisco alone, public transit use has declined by 12.7% since 2010.
Inadequate resources for disabled and aging populations, lack of access for low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities, and disinvestment in infrastructure has left a gap in the market for reliable, consistent access to rapid transit, affordable or not. Uber and Lyft fill that need as evidenced by their rapid rise to prominence, quick replacement of traditional “yellow cabs”, and ubiquity as “must-have” apps throughout the world. And yet Uber and Lyft are financial failures, posting losses in the billions every quarter since becoming publicly traded. In August 2019, Uber reported losses of $5.2 billion, while Lyft posted losses of $644 million in June 2019. Despite these record losses, investors continue to throw money at the rideshare behemoths. On November 11, Uber’s stock price was $27.14 at close while Lyft settled at $42.97.
Lyft’s stock price is particularly interesting given their tumultuous week on social media and in the press. On November 4, Lyft began trending on Twitter as a quiet update rolled out to the app. Upon opening the app, users were greeted with a splash page informing them that their terms of service (TOS) had been updated to say that all disputes with Lyft and its drivers must be settled out of civil court in third party arbitration. Alison Turkos is currently suing the company after being kidnapped, taken across state lines, and gang-raped by a Lyft driver and at least two other men. Lyft sent Turkos a boilerplate apology, still forced her to pay $13 for her ordeal, allowed her attacker to continue driving, and promised to not pair them in the future.
Google “Lyft sexual assault” or “Uber harassment” and you will find one report after another of drivers assaulting, stalking, harassing, kidnapping, and raping passengers. How can companies that purport to serve people be responsible for so much harm? In 2016, Uber settled a $25 million lawsuit alleging that both services failed to catch 25 drivers with criminal backgrounds because neither database provides a complete criminal history or checks fingerprints, nor do they cover the entire number of years allowed by law. In Chicago, Lyft was forced to switch from using Sterling Talent Solutions after allowing a man convicted for attempting to wire money to Al Qaeda to drive for them. And until this year, Lyft did not conduct continuous background checks on its drivers.
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They continue to take unnecessary risks with their investors, even given the continued cost of paying out one settlement after another, because it’s cheaper. And because capitalism is inherently exploitative. It thrives on oppression and marginalization, pitting the most empowered against the least so. Because capitalism assigns value to individuals based on their ascribed roles, and “feminine” bodies serve a single purpose — sexual gratification for men. We’re property to them, honestly. Things to be possessed and used until we break. Then we’re tossed in the bin and replaced with the newest model. In a rare moment of capitalist honesty, Ross Douthat wrote, “If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?”
In this entirely Lovecraftian simulation, the thing to be redistributed is us. Our bodies. Make no mistake—capitalists, conservatives, economists—none of them are concerned with redistribution. The dreaded socialism is a non-concern. The redistribution of sex is nothing more than a historical notion of entitlement rebranded for the post-Industrial age. It’s a budding sociopath’s best interpretation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian future. But that doesn’t mean we have to charge head-on into this hellscape.
It’s a small step, but I made the choice to swear off rideshare apps and only use public transit. I’m only one person, but I won’t actively support my own subordination. And yes, I live in Pittsburgh which means carrying cat litter and groceries up hills that would make Lance Armstrong weep, but at least my thighs will be strong enough to snap a man’s wrist should the need arise.
Adrie, Sociology student, book hoarder, and mother to Oscar (5) and Misty (15). I believe in the power of the glitter accent nail, sex workers, and black people.