Uber says it has permanently suspended the driver.
YouTube personality Erika Szabo. Photo courtesy Erika Szabo
When Erika Szabo, a video game and anime YouTube personality, ordered an Uber on a Sunday afternoon following a guest appearance at a convention in Toronto, she was looking to get home quickly after a long day and shitty weather. Just as her Uber driver pulled up, however, her phone died. Thinking it was the right thing to tell him about her dead phone in case it meant the payment wouldn't go through, she did just that.
"He didn't say anything at first, but then he said, 'It is a problem because I need you to have your phone on [for payment to go through]'" Szabo told VICE. "Then when we got on the highway he said, I'll make you a deal... I want you to give me a blowjob. You need to pay me for this because I am driving over six kilometres.'"
While the payment will still go through for Uber even if your phone dies, Szabo did not know this at the time.
When Szabo declined, she alleges that the driver then asked her to "flash me your tits." She again declined, and says he called her a "beautiful girl" and insisted that "nobody would ever know."
"He kept saying, 'You need to do something about this,'" Szabo told VICE.
As they were getting off the highway and into a residential area, Szabo says that she asked the driver to stop the car so she could get out early even though it was raining. Instead of pulling over, she says, he again insisted that she needed to "pay" for the trip. When she declined yet again, she alleges he offered to pay her for a blowjob, and again, she said no.
When Szabo did finally reach her destination after her ten-minute Uber ride, she booked it inside. After charging her phone, she realized the payment did in fact go through. Following that, she reported her driver via the Uber app.
On the following day, Szabo went to work, but she couldn't concentrate due to what had happened to her on the Uber trip. She ended up leaving early. Then, since she hadn't spoken to anyone from Uber yet, she went to the company's Toronto headquarters.
There, she says she received little assistance and was told, "We can't help you here." Szabo says an employee there told her that while normally customers like her are a priority, the worker was currently busy dealing with a driver filling out an application to work for the company. Disappointed to learn that there was no customer service available at the headquarters, after, she went to Toronto police and filed a report.
Szabo's experience is one of many reports of sexual harassment or assault via Uber drivers. In September, an Uber driver in Toronto was charged with the sexual assault of a 20-year-old female passenger. And in April 2016, another Uber driver in Markham, Ontario was charged with sexual assault after he drove a female passenger to a parking lot where police say he attacked her. On top of these very serious charges, it is common amongst women to hear about their experiences with Uber drivers being creepy. I have had several Uber drivers hit on me, and at times, have felt uncomfortable. As well, several of my friends have had similar experiences when taking Ubers alone, which is disappointing considering that women sometimes take Uber in place of walking or transit in order to feel safer.
Szabo received a response from Uber the day after she reported the driver following a public Facebook post about her experience and her contacting Uber via social media. A representative for the company spoke to her over the phone, apologized, and said they refunded her for the $12 ride.
"I feel like I needed to go out of my way to get an actual response from them," Szabo said, noting that Uber does not have a public number to call.
When VICE contacted Uber about the allegations, a representative named Kayla Whaling said, "We take these allegations very seriously... As soon as we were alerted, we removed his access as we looked into it." Whaling noted that the driver's access was revoked permanently and said that Uber encourages passengers to use law enforcement as their first point of contact in cases like Szabo's.
When asked why Uber does not have a public number, Whaling said that their monitoring through the app is their main way of keeping track of passengers and drivers. "We have teams that are dedicated 24/7 to follow trips," Whaling told VICE.
"I do appreciate how Uber can keep track... but I also think there needs to be a much more stringent process with how they screen people," Szabo said.
When asked about their current policy for screening drivers in Canada, Uber provided the following statement:
"Our current process for all uberX driver-partners is that they must pass a background check that includes a National Criminal Record Check of Federal RCMP databases. We also have a zero-tolerance policy on any criminal record, including sexual offenses."
"To know that [the driver] knows where I live is scary," Szabo said. "I don't know how I feel about Uber to be honest... It's really hard to find a place where you actually feel safe."
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